Sweeney’s Penny Candy

58. Haight signOn Haight and Belvedere, tightly wedged between my Dad’s dime store and Superba Market, was Sweeney’s. The Sweeneys were a sweet, white-haired old couple who lived in the flat above their penny candy shop. Actually, now that I think about it, Mr. Sweeney was on the crusty side, a big 52-sprouse-reitz-haight-streetman, balding on top, with muttonchops and a bushy mustache. They sold ice cream too, and when it was hot, which was seldom during the summer in San Francisco, Daddy and I would pop in after lunch for a single chocolate cone or a soda pop.

Sweeney’s was a dingy, narrow establishment with rows of begrimed glass cases filled with penny candy. As you stepped through the front door, a swirl of stale vanilla, banana taffy, musty cocoa, and a hint of mice wafted up; you were greeted by gumballs and gumdrops in tumbled mounds, by lollipops standing quietly waiting to be adopted, by elbowing jumbles of jelly-beans and jujubes hoping to be chosen instead. The chewy Abba Zabas and Sugar Daddys begged for attention while shy Tootsie Pops stood with their scarves wrapped tightly around long skinny necks. The caramels kidded with the strawberry taffys and the bubble-gum teased the jawbreakers. The red wax lips flirted shamelessly with the candy cigarettes every time Mr. Sweeney turned his back.

Aloof at the end of the counter were the bins of stale cherry, raspberry, and coconut bonbons, thinking they were somethin’ else, having no idea that they could never compete with See’s. The pedestrian Mallos jealously jousted with Peppermint Patties dressed in their elegant silver jackets, while the candy buttons stood in polite lines on paper strips, glad not to be part of the fray. The worldly licorice whips slumped side-by-side, naked and bored by the whole thing.

The black licorice never called to me, nor did the Fireballs, but the Pixy Stix did, doing the Hokey Pokey in their tall glass jar,  frantically waving their folded ends, aflame with hope shouting, PICK ME! PICK ME!” They leapt into my pocket as I flipped my nickel heads or tails, then clinked it on the glass counter top.

In the 1950s, a nickel bought you a pocketful of everything from a penny candy store.

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  1. Bob Barron says:

    Sweeney’s penny candy was a must stop before going to the movies at the Haight Theatre. A nickel went a long way. Not like today. A time past that brings great childhood memories.

  2. Sandy Metaxas says:

    Best place to stop on the way to the Haight theater for a Saturday matinee!

  3. carolyn gianelloni wilson says:

    The year was 1957 or 1958. I was 5, Diane was six. We got to cross from Cole, across the panhandle to get to Sweeney’s candy store. How important we felt, nickle or even a dime fisted on our hands. We ran the choices over and over in our minds til we entered the store. Then the choosing began. 2 or 3 purchases for a penny and a nickle for a bigger bar or 5 small that could last an entire show later that night. My favorites were the red lips and candy cigarettes, followed by a jaw breaker. Sometimes Mr. Sweeney would smile at us and say how grown up we were to cross the park and street and hand us a free piece of small candy. He was our favorite person for many years.

    • Kerry Nasle says:

      Hi Carolyn,
      Diane just read this and was pleasantly surprised by your comment. She has many wonderful memories with you living with her grandmother (Mrs. Hardin) and would love to re-connect if you’re open to it. Please lmk.

  4. Jeff Elliot says:

    My inexplicable choice was wax tubes filled with sugar-water!

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