Sunday, May 30, 2010

Jones mixes it with love and makes the world taste good

People with a sweet tooth unite! The Black River Candy Shoppe in Chester has all the confections you know and love — and some that you might not know at all.

"We have more than 900 items in the store," store owner Steve Jones says, standing in front of a cabinet stocked with Pez. "I have about 30 suppliers, and I get them (from) as far as California."

It's tough to know where to begin the list of his inventory.

"We're kind of broken down into different main candy areas," Jones says, spreading out his arm toward a plethora of bright candy wrappers. "The front of here is all what we call kiddie candy."

Think M&Ms and anything else that you can imagine a child chomping down on in front of the TV.

But Jones knows that candy is not just kid's stuff. He has a another whole section dedicated entirely to adults.

"Another big draw are our nostalgic candies," Jones says, taking a stroll down the aisle and passing a box of Moon Pies. "This is old stuff — candy buttons, wax bottles, flying saucers, and it just goes on and on."

The shop even sells an old-time schoolyard favorite, candy cigarettes, which Jones acknowledges might not be the most politically correct product these days.

"I call them candy sticks," Jones says with feigned innocence. "They're one of our biggest sellers."

He acknowledges that the primary buyers of his "candy sticks" aren't children, but rather adults who look back on them fondly.

"My philosophy has always been: I hope there are stronger influences within a family than what kind of candy they eat," Jones says. "I used to eat them when I was younger, and I've never smoked a cigarette in my life. But they're a huge seller."

The store also features a section of sugar-free items.

"I'm told by my sugar-free customers that it's a large selection," Jones says. "We have more than 120 different sugar-free items, and a lot of people come in and say that this is a better selection than they see in a lot of places, so evidently, it is."

Anglophiles who seeking a Curly Wurly Bar could actually find one here.

"We have one of the largest selections of U.K. candies," Jones says. "We keep expanding it because it's every popular."

That includes Cadbury chocolates. The ones sold in the shop are different from the Cadbury you might already know in the U.S., Jones explains.

"I brought in all the British Cadbury, and they sell like hotcakes," Jones says. "If you were to have one, you would taste how different the chocolate is."

Also popular are the store's bulk items, which allow customers to mix and match Jelly Bellies with some Salt Water Taffy, for example. And why not? The Black River Candy Shoppe has so many varieties of candies that the possibilities are nearly endless.

Jones didn't start out with a passion for the sweet stuff.

"I never was that into candy," he says. "I'd go out on Halloween and Christmas, and my parents would throw away my Halloween stuff, because I hadn't eaten it."

That's not the case anymore, though. Jones now travels to expos as far away as Chicago to try out the new best confection, such as coconut or pretzel M&M's.

"I eat candy more than I ever did, to be honest with you."

So, without the childhood yen, how did Jones — who celebrated his 11th anniversary of his store — get into the sweets biz?

"I had friends who had similar stores in the mountains of North Carolina years and years ago," says Jones, who came out of the pharmaceutical industry. "It kind of put the idea in my pocket, and things worked."

The shop's location itself is a sweet spot for Jones: "I love Chester. That's one reason I opened here."

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