Sweeney’s Penny Candy

58. Haight signOn Haight and Belvedere, tightly wedged between my fathers’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, Dad 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 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 me a pocketful of my heart’s desire from a penny candy store.

© 2015. Catherine Sevenau.
All rights reserved.

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  1. Kathleen Sweeney Cleary says:

    This was my grandparent’s store, Russell and Alice Sweeney. My four siblings and I loved to visit his store on Sunday mornings. A kid’s dream come true! We would each receive a small empty paper bag and could help our selves to any of the sugary delights. Unfortunately we all have cavities to prove it! When my grandfather Russell Ignatious passed away he willed his automobile to one of his “hippie friends”. We all have fond memories of the Haight and “Summer of Love”. It was quite an education growing up during this bit of unforgettable history in SF.

  2. I didn’t grow up in San Francisco, but Sweeney’s sounds just like the Rose Garden in Geneva, Ohio. It was a small store located in the alley behind the post office and a common stop on our walk home from school. Homemade fudge for a penny along with those wax bottles filled with colored sugar water. What did they call the little blue, pink, and yellow dot candies that you pulled off a long strip of white paper?

  3. Serina Z Dugan says:

    This is a sparkling surprise to read of what seems a foggy illusive memory of my childhood on the Haight. My mom, two lil’ brothers and I lived on 2nd floor a couple doors over from the candy store 1965-1966, I was 5. Hippies taught us to ‘pan-handle’ for coins. If our bare foot begging was successful, my brother and I would venture in the candy store in hopes to procure sweets. Most often Mr. Sweeny would bark and order us to get out. Mom forbid us sugar so we felt brave and defiant although I don’t recall any particular favorite. Foggy memory. At the time the streets were dominated by the Hell’s Angels and riots that ended with tear gas.

  4. 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.

  5. Sandy Metaxas says:

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

  6. 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.

  7. Jeff Elliot says:

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

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