Through Any Given Door

3.27 Sweeney’s Candy Shop

Mr. Sweeney

1960s • San Francisco ~ Tightly wedged between Sprouse-Reitz and Superba Grocery was Sweeney’s candy store. The Sweeneys were a sweet white-haired couple who lived in the flat above their Haight Street shop. Actually, now that I think about it, Mr. Sweeney was on the crusty side, a balding man with wild eyebrows; he always wore a white half-length lab-coat style jacket. His wife was short, wore wire hexagonal glasses and a white apron, and called me “dear.” Once when I was in the store they had in a little monkey wearing a red cap and vest. Their big German Shepherd guarded their living quarters and barked furiously when any of the local boys teased it through the metal gate at the foot of the exterior staircase. I was afraid of the monkey, even though they had it on a leash, and terrified of the dog.

Mrs. Sweeney

The store was once an old soda fountain and the Sweeneys still sold milk shakes and ice cream. When it was hot, which was seldom during the summer in San Francisco, Dad and I’d pop in after lunch at the Glen Ellen Diner or the Russian restaurant for a single chocolate cone or a cold orange soda pop.

Sweeney’s was a rather dark and dingy narrow establishment with rows of begrimed glass cases filled with penny candy. The long candy counter was to the left, and to the right were perpendicular tables loaded with kites, PeeChee folders, and wrapping paper. As you stepped through the front door a swirl of stale vanilla, banana taffy, musty cocoa, and a hint of mice wafted up your nostrils. 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 the Tootsie Pops were shy, their scarves wrapped tightly around their long skinny necks. The caramels joked around with the strawberry taffy and the bubblegum 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 something else, having no idea that they smelled or tasted nothing like the buttery smoothness of See’s. The pedestrian Mallo Bars jealously jousted with Peppermint Patties dressed in their elegant silver jackets, while the button candies 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 and frantically waving their folded ends, aflame with hope, shouting: PICK ME! PICK ME! They leaped into my pocket as I flipped my nickel heads or tails and clinked it on the glass countertop.

In those days, a nickel could buy you a small brown sack of your heart’s desire at a penny candy store.

Mr. Sweeney in his candy shop

to be continued…

© 2018. Catherine Sevenau.
All rights reserved.

Note: The Sweeneys lived and worked
at 1650/1652 Haight Street
Russell Ignatius Sweeney
Sep 6, 1898 – Oct 18, 1969
died at age 71
Alice B. (Burton) Sweeney
Oct 31, 1897 – Jan 22, 1976
died at age 78

location of Sweeney’s and Sprouse Reitz at Haight and Belvedere

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  1. From CadeKid, a distant cousin: “Well, weren’t you lucky to have not only a candy store, but a nickel to spend as well. The advantages of being a big city girl. Being older and having grown up in the back woods, neither were available to me. My first memory of sweets would be of a Hershey bar or a box of Cracker Jacks.

    Sometime during 1947-48 my grandfather came to visit, all the way from Washington, D. C. Each afternoon during his stay he shared licorice candy with me and my brother. There were licorice sticks as well as small ‘gum drop’ pieces that came in a box, but cannot remember the brand. That was when I added Black Jack gum to my usual choice of Dentyne or Beechnut if given a chance to have a piece.

    By the early 50s Dad gave us an allowance of 25 cents every two weeks, out of which we had to save a nickel for savings bond stamps. I usually bought a bag of cashew nuts for a dime while my brother bought peanuts for a nickel. For years and years he always had twice as much money in savings as I had. It is probably safe to say it all started with those bags of nuts.

    I have no idea when See’s came to San Francisco, but one of the few stores was in Santa Barbara. When business dictated a trip over the mountain, Dad generally spent his evenings playing poker with the others who had to be there also. If he won any money, he would purchase a one-pound box of See’s. Six people sharing soon made me learn which ones I liked and which ones could be left for others. Of the most memorable Easters was one when he came home with a 5-lb box. He must have won big time on that trip.

    Then came high school and a big choice to be determined by how I wanted to spend my 10 cent dessert allowance. Most days I opted for a Carnation Dixie Cup of burnt almond ice cream. I could get this just before I got on the bus for my hour’s ride home. However, about once a week I used my lunch time to hustle down the street to Dewar’s Candy Store and buy a sandwich bag full of peppermint taffy. In today’s world a quarter pound is six bucks. If the bus got in early enough I could get a large cinnamon roll in the cafeteria. Another dime out of my hoard.

    There was one last momentous discovery, finally at a “Five and Dime”. Late 1950s—Washington, D.C.—Woolworth’s. Almost full circle as I discovered Cashew Brittle in one of those famous candy counters. It not only had cashews instead of peanuts, but it had long ribbons of fresh coconut. Oh, was it yummy. Unfortunately the store was half way across town so the only way to get the goodies was to go back into the District on a weekend, and that was expensive on my salary, so I was not able to indulge very often.

    So, that is my sweet story. I had a See’s egg for Easter and hopefully will have some Dewar’s for Christmas. Thanks for the trip down memory lane.
    Cheers, CadeKid

  2. Edna McNeely Bowcutt says

    What memories! I cannot remember the candy store where I grew up in Ceres, CA but so remember those penny candies. And to be able to have a dime and buy almost half a little bag was heaven to a 5 year old. Your description of the candy shenanigans was priceless. I will never look at the row of candy in the stores in the same way again. Thank you for giving me my morning smile.

  3. Holy jujubes. Once, at a Saturday afternoon matinee in Chula Vista, I set a second grade record. Two boxes of jujubes poured into my mouth. At the same time. I was lucky not to choke to death. Instead, the dozens and dozens of candy pieces, once moisturized by my siliva, coagulated and hardened around all my teeth. I couldn’t open my mouth — I had cemented myself shut. Top and bottom…roof and all. Not sure I have bought a box since.

  4. Holy jujubes. Once, at a Saturday afternoon matinee in Chula Vista, I set a second grade record. Two boxes of jujubes poured into my mouth. At the same time. I was lucky not to choke to death. Instead, the dozens and dozens of candy pieces, once moisturized by my saliva, coagulated and hardened around all my teeth. I couldn’t open my mouth — I had cemented myself shut. Top and bottom… roof and all. Not sure I have bought a box since.

  5. Barbara Jacobsen says

    Absolutely brilliant! I’ll bet you had a lot of fun writing those wonderful words. You had me smiling and laughing in remembrance and just plain awe. Have you considered writing children’s tales?

    • Thanks, I wrote this in Stephanie Moore’s writing class and and another student suggested making the candy come alive and helped with the phrasing, so I can’t claim all of the credit. It began as a stand alone piece; I later worked it into the story. Maybe I’ll send it into the Sonoma Sun for next month’s column.

  6. Jean McQuady says

    Michele’s father made up a jingle about Abba Zaba candy which morphed into a “tripararey dragon”, her favorite story. So happy you brought up that memory Cath.

  7. Jim Chatfield says

    Loved your description of the candy store. You sounded like every kid who had the chance to enjoy one of the old time shops.

  8. I thoroughly enjoyed this chapter. Excellent descriptions. I could visualize what you described. A monkey! That would’ve scared me too. I’m still afraid of dogs. Abba Zabbas, Sugar Daddy’s and candy cigarettes. My childhood. Thank you for brightening my day.

  9. This is so funny…needs to be published somewhere for public consumption