Penny Candy

With a single dollar, we were sent off with a very short list. It was usually bread, milk, and a pack of Tareyton cigarettes for Dad.

It was the favorite chore. The trip to the Mom and Pop grocery store.


Painting by Stevan Dohanos. 1944

There was one on just about every corner.

It was a throwback to the time when supermarkets were just taking hold in small town America.

They only sold the basics, and at the time, that included penny candy.

There wasn’t much change from that dollar, usually less than a dime,Β  but we were allowed to keep it, or use it on penny candy.

We seldom kept it.

I love this painting, done by an artist who studied Norman Rockwell, and used on the cover of the Saturday Evening Post.

The candy was different, but the expression on the ever patient storekeeper is priceless, a study in patience.

Armed with a small paper bag, he waited while we made some very important decisions.

Bit O’Honey, MaryJane, Bazooka Bubble Gum, Tootsie Roll, Necco Wafers, Turkish Taffy, JujyFruit, Pixy Sticks.

Peppermint sticks, butterscotch disks, caramel creams, licorice whips, candy cigarettes, wax lips, candy buttons on a paper strip, elastic candy necklaces, marshmallow “ice cream” cones.

nik-l-nipsOne favorite was Nik L Nip, small wax bottles filled with sugary juice of undetermined content.

It’s a pretty sweet memory of a very different era.

Except for the popular bodega that you see in urban areas, the small grocery store has gone by the wayside.

So has the concept of sending a child alone on a quest for just about anything.

And that’s too bad.




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90 Responses to Penny Candy

  1. nimi naren says:

    This is beautiful and brings back memories of Indian Petti Kadais. I did a post on this sometime back.


  2. Nurse Kelly says:

    I remember those little wax bottles of “undetermined content!” I remember chewing on the wax after drinking the liquid! What a blast from the past this post is, Van! And yes, it sure is sad that kids don’t have the freedom to go on those quests anymore. I was one who played outside from morning until night… grateful I have those memories. Hope you are well. xo

  3. TanGental says:

    Blimey how do you remember all those sweets? Lovely picture mind you.

    • My parents didn’t keep candy in the house, Geoff, not ever. So this stuff was special to us, locked in happy memory banks. ☺

      • TanGental says:

        Ditto. We only had sweets when one of my grandmas came to stay though we could walk to school and spend our 2 penny bus fare in sweets. Four chews for one penny, either a liquorish one or a fruit salad that was yellow and red like rhubarb and custard. Or, now I think about it 2 pennies got you a packet of ten sweet cigarettes that often had cards. I collected a Thunderbird set some time in the 1960s only failing to get the yellow Thunderbird Four. Happy days.

      • Wow. I don’t remember trading cards in those candy cigarettes. That would have been a bonus. Sorry about your missing Thunderbird. 😑

  4. LaVagabonde says:

    We had one such place in our very small town. It didn’t sell food, but a variety of things like tools, and other stuff for the house. They had those big glass jars on the counter. The lady who ran the place was a real grouch so I only went in there a few times. Red licorice was the favorite. Kids ran (or rode bikes) all over the place back then. Those days are long gone.

    • Most of the store folks I remember were pretty friendly to us, they knew our parents were their customers. On bikes, roller skates, even barefoot, we were always outside, Julie. I drove through my old neighborhood recently on a sunny, summer day…no evidence of children, anywhere. Times have changed, for sure. I blame Sega, Nintendo, etc. ☺

  5. George says:

    I do miss that time. My mom and dad owned one of those mom and pop neighborhood grocery stores where everyone seemed to congregate, tell stories or catch up. Then the supermarkets came and he was forced out of business. I remember those penny candies very well. I sold some but ate more😊.
    It was a very special time.

  6. Jim says:

    you forgot the candy cigarettes for us.

  7. The V Pub says:

    A great post, Van! The painting, the penny candy and the concept of your child being safe to go to the store alone at such a young age are priceless.

  8. I can’t even imagine shopping with $1. Even the dollar store would cost more than $1 after tax for the one item. But I do remember the wax bottles… They were sold in a candy shop on a pier at the lake we boated on when I was a kid. My mom used to buy those or candy dots for me.

  9. Brenda says:

    I remember buying penny candy at the local corner store with the change leftover from my errand. I also remember my childhood freedom to roam. It was such a different time to grow up. A great post btw. πŸ™‚

  10. Your post brought back memories. Wonderful! 😊

  11. I remember walking to the local store just a few blocks as well. My grandmother smoked the Tareytons. I think they were about .50 cents a pack back then. Good memories and a good time to grow up.

  12. That really touches and stirs a lot of special childhood memories.

  13. This brought back memories of the penny sweet counter at Henderson’s newsagents in the town I grew up in, Van. Some of the delights I got there were flying saucers, Catherine wheels, fruit salads, cola bottles, palma violets, gobstoppers, and Bazooka Joe bubble gum. There was so much choice and a penny went a long way on those days.

  14. Val Boyko says:

    Such sweet memories indeed!! Although we had different names for our sweeties, the sound very alike πŸ’› We had cards in our cigarettes, and my brother and I would fight over them!
    Thanks for taking me down memory lane Van πŸ’•

  15. I too used to love the reward treat of some penny candy. Since we had ha’pennies when I was growing up too, one could stretch the budget and end up with quite a good way packet full (or a poke as we call a paper bag in Scots). Our local shop kept the penny and ha’penny sweeties in wooden drawers and the shopkeeper would pull them out and we would make selections from the various pigeonholes they contained.

    • Wooden drawers…that’s interesting. Ours were encased in glass, with sticky child-sized finger smears on the front. ☺ I take it the he’penny no longer exists ? Thanks for sharing your memories, Laura. πŸ’–

      • Yes, the half penny was withdrawn from circulation in 1984 (or thereabouts) for the same reason that there’s always chatter about getting rid of pennies. The wooden drawers would never pass Health and Safety legislation now. I did so love the reveal of those drawers being slid open though. Better yet was when my Gran would treat me to a quarter pound of some sort of boiled sweeties from a shop that had not evolved since Edwardian times. Rows of glass jars on shelves and weighing scales with the lead weights. That was magical. I always had soor plooms or Parma violets.

      • Imagine that vendor not using plastic gloves to dispense goodies, and no hand sanitizer in sight. Yet, we all survived. I’ve never had that violet candy. Interesting.

      • It’s very perfumery and aromatic. Some people really don’t like that but I loved them. They were a sort of pyramid shape and a lovely mauve colour. Soor plooms were green balls tasting of very sour apple.

      • That’s one I don’t remember seeing here in the US. ☺

      • I obviously don’t know the history of American confectionary to be able to know.

  16. This post brought back great memories, Van. πŸ™‚ My parents used to give my brothers and me each a quarter. We would walk a mile to the general store and a mile back for our candy. It was great. It didn’t occur to me for years that my parents probably enjoyed the time as much as we did!

    • That’s quite a walk for the candy, and you’re right, D., it gave your parents a break. Win-win ! ☺ We would ride our bikes for miles along country roads, gather discarded soda bottles with a 2 cent deposit, collect enough to pay for a single ice cream cone, then ride back. It took hours. Simple joys. ❀️ πŸ’› πŸ’™

  17. My Grampa saved his pennies and when we came for summer break he gave us each some, we rolled them and walked down the hill, bought penny candy! wow you brought it all back! lovely

  18. So many wonderful things lost to time and “progress”.

    We came across an amazing little candy store, set up for just this purpose. Adults, who want memories sparked, or little ones to have this fun. It was FULL of candy barrels and glass candy jars. ANd people behind the counter….waiting. πŸ™‚ It made me happy. I just wish I could remember where it was…

  19. Agreed, Van. Great memories today’s children are denied.

  20. As I read your piece, I was a 7 year old again, in the little store “down street” (as we used to say in Pittsburgh) trying to decide how to spend that precious nickel. If I recall, you could actually get two pieces of some candies for a penny. Because my mother was a single working parent, we didn’t have much money so I would always try to make that nickel go as far as it would go and get as much candy as I could for it… Interesting how that has carried with me into adulthood! I still love twofers! Ha! As Bob Hope sang, “Thanks of the memories!” Van!

  21. lbeth1950 says:

    That was the best, the riches of a few pennies.

  22. Elyse says:

    I too remember those trips to the store. But I do think the biggest loss to our kids and to society as a whole is the loss of independence for kids. We keep them in our sight until the day they are 16 and we hand them the car keys.

  23. We didn’t have them over here or at least I never remembered those bottles, but I do remember going to get sweets for one penny.. xxx

  24. Wonderful Van.. brought back some lovely memories of the sweet shop across the road.

  25. C.E.Robinson says:

    Such wonderful memories, Van! As a kid in the 40s I had 5 cents a week to buy penny candy (Mary Janes, Bit o Honey) at the general store down the street. Such a long time ago! Have a wonder-filled weekend! πŸ’› Elizabeth

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  27. joey says:

    Oh life in a small town, where my father kept a tab, where I walked down to fetch food, drink, and cigarettes almost daily for about three years of my young life. I could buy lots of candy for a dollar then, which is why I could never put candy on the tab, but bought it with quarters I earned pulling weeds or sweeping porches for our neighbors. Candy cigarettes and yes, wax bottles of sweet nectar, but for me, mostly Boston baked beans and red hots.
    What a nice memory πŸ™‚

  28. Tina Frisco says:

    Thanks for the sweet memories, Van. Shared this bit of nostalgia for a lost era ❀

  29. i remember candy necklaces and sweet tart things…always seem to cut my tongue…one does wonder what the liquid was in those tiny bottles…my love for our local candy store ended when i was five(ish)…i pinched a one cent bubble gum with a friend…got caught…never went back…funny memory now…not then πŸ˜€

  30. Laura says:

    My favorite part of visiting grandma’s was getting a dollar for the penny candy counter. Red licorice whips were my absolute fave!!

  31. My goodness, you transport me back to the time when we ran errands and earned pennies or kobos to buy goody-goody candy, Chat sweets, and Bazooka Joe. It’s so unfortunate that one can’t send their young one’s on errands these days. Gone are the days. Beautiful memories.

    • Happy to take you there, J.☺ And, so sad about how times have changed. There was a woman here in Washington DC who was arrested for letting her kids walk to a neighborhood park alone. We’ve gone too far in the other direction.

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