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From Sky Bars to Slo Pokes, Ohio candy store features vintage favorites

Thursday, October 31, 2013 - 6:49 am

COLUMBUS, Ohio — Her candy shop isn't the modern sort: Mary Rodgers sells no Hershey bars, no 3 Musketeers.

“But you can get a Zagnut or a Clark,” said Rodgers, who for the past three years has managed Moxie's, a store in the Clintonville neighborhood that emphasizes throwback — They still make those? — sweets.

Also part of her stash: Sky Bars, Squirrel Nut Zippers, Bonomo Turkish Taffy and Black Cow and Slo Poke caramels — with the last two available only since 2011 after a 25-year hiatus.

Not to be forgotten are candy cigarettes (known as politically correct “candy sticks”).

Rodgers, a retired strategic planner, conceived the shop at 3468 N. High St. in the mold of her bygone after-school Columbus haunts, including Jimmie's Drugs and Farrell's Ice Cream Parlour.

“If they're making it,” said Rodgers, 52, “we will find it.”

Such a pursuit can prove sticky, though.

The shuttering of mom-and-pop stores and regional confectioners — as well as advances in shipping and refrigeration — has soured the independent American candy landscape.

“There was lots more freaky stuff in the '70s and even the '80s,” said Steve Almond, author of the 2004 best-selling book “Candyfreak: A Journey Through the Chocolate Underbelly of America.”

“Overall, the racks have become more homogenized.”

The change stems in part from the domination of three global candy titans: Hershey, Mars and Nestle. Plus, big-box stores want to stock only brands that sell well.

Finding a less-familiar childhood favorite can be a pleasant surprise — joy often delivered by Don Bridge, who runs www.oldtimecandy.com with his wife, Karen, in LaGrange, Ohio, about 20 miles south of Lorain. Their online-only business offers more than 700 varieties.

“We're selling memories,” said Bridge, 68.

Business has been so strong during the past 12 years that the couple moved their home operation to an 8,400-square-foot warehouse.

The Bridges sort their stock by decades (a 1930s spread features Boston Baked Beans, Choward's Violet mints and Valomilk marshmallow cups, for example); by holiday or occasion; and, perhaps most interesting, by region.

A Los Angeles transplant, then, might relive the Massachusetts-made Necco Wafers of his youth.

Or a Northerner originally from the South could chomp on a Goo Goo Cluster, the chocolate-and-peanut-coated disc of caramel and marshmallow from Nashville, Tenn.

Palates do vary by regions, Bridge said.

“You've got to be from Texas to like Peanut Patties — this round hockey-puck thing with solid sugar and peanuts,” he said. “I don't know why they exist.”

Bridge and other merchants are happy to stock the rarities.

“Wal-mart doesn't get it all; we get everything,” said Johanne Tritsch, whose father-in-law founded Columbus Candy & Tobacco 67 years ago.

“And a lot of people come here to get it.”

The West Side wholesaler carries items such as creamy Cow Tales caramels and the nougat-filled Charleston Chew.

So, too, does Fuzziwig's Candy Factory, a Colorado franchise with locations at Easton Town Center and the Mall at Tuttle Crossing.

The checkout counter at a Short North retro toy store, Big Fun, houses dozens of individually wrapped candies, ranging from Atomic FireBall cinnamon jawbreakers to Abba-Zaba taffy bars. Most cost 25 cents apiece.

Dublin caterer MJ's Candy & Events has obliged client requests for bubble-gum cigars, Teaberry gum and the sugar- encrusted jellies known as Chuckles, co-owner Jeff Shaffer said.

Perhaps most detailed, each “general store” inside a Cracker Barrel restaurant — as with the four central Ohio outlets — peddles oodles of vintage goodies.

“Just because it's not a (manufacturer's) No. 1 or 2 item doesn't mean it wouldn't work here,” Kristie Stein, the Tennessee chain's candy buyer, recently told the trade journal Candy Industry. “We really want that sense of wonder.”

Which also explains why Moxie's patron Michelle Coleman took only a glimpse at the colorful merchandise in glass jars before grabbing several handfuls of peanut-butter-and-coconut Chick-O-Sticks, Swedish Fish and several candy bracelets.

“It overwhelms me,” said Coleman, a 53-year-old West Side native who fondly recalled the penny-candy peddlers of her youth.

“But it brings me back.”