IT'S THE WEEKEND: The delights of old-school sweets
1:10pm Saturday 10th August 2013 in News
OLD-fashioned sweet shops are making a big come-back, as PETER MARSHALL discovered.
PERHAPS it is a taste of youth, nostalgia in a wrapper.
Or maybe it's another consequence of our 1950s revival, post-Jubilee celebrations, a search for comfort in tough economic times with a little treat.
But for Gwent sweet shop owners, the resurgence in a yen for their rows of sweet-filled jars may also be to do with a revival of community spirit.
Take the case of Pontypool locals Ann and Steve Gillard, who bought and renovated a run-down sweet shop last summer.
They are used to working in tight spaces - after all, their shop is only about ten foot squared.
However, they also belong to the niche market of old-fashioned sweet shops. Niche, yes, but growing. In fact, across Wales and the rest of the UK old-fashioned sweet shops are popping up more and more. But why the sudden surge in popularity?
For one thing, old-fashioned sweets are especially tasty. But the popularity of old-fashioned sweet shops may also be connected to a deeper desire for days gone by.
As Steve explains, their shop, Annie's Sweet Shop, does not have a toilet, but the folks at Argos, just across the road, are more than happy to let Steve and Ann make use of their theirs, especially since they get the occasional free sample in return.
A strange deal, but one in which everybody's a winner: Steve and Ann get to work comfortably and the Argos staff get sugary goodies on a sporadic basis. Can you imagine the same bartering going on with a packet of modern sweets?
With over 300 jars all stuffed with sweets, Annie's Sweet Shop has earned quite a reputation -- especially when it comes to more obscure confectionery items. Lollies flavored like gin and tonic and beer may grace the shelves, but surprisingly it's cough sweet Bronco Busters which have proven an unexpected favorite. As Steve tells me, people buy them in bulk, "sometimes at £10 a time!"
It's not just kids who make use of the shop; a large group of regulars, made up of people of all ages, ensure that Annie's Sweet Shop is able to thrive all year round -- not just in the busier summer months.
And it appears that business is booming: Steve and Ann have recently purchased a sweet cart which they plan to hire out at weddings and birthdays. So keep an eye out for that.
Also making movements in the world of old-fashioned sweets is Helen Beveridge, AKA the Fudge Fairy.
It was almost two years ago, whilst on a visit to Cornwall, where Helen's husband was working at the time, that Helen decided to have a go herself.
"Fudge", she tells me, "is a big thing in the West Country, and I wanted to bring some of that enthusiasm to Wales."
The first few batches weren't a success: "either too runny or too granular", she confesses.
But Helen persevered, determined to make the fudge of her dreams. With patience and the right tools (I'm assured that an accurate thermometer is a must) she eventually managed to create what she wanted: "a fudge which is lovely, but not too cloying". Originally selling at farmers' markets, the sheer popularity of the fudge, whose recipe, of course, remains a carefully guarded trade secret, provided all of the impetus Helen required: her first shop, located in Undy, has been open for twenty-two months, and she's just opened another in Caldicot.
"Sometimes you just have to go with your gut", she says, "the location was right and the property was right".
Asked whether she'd have considered a franchise, Helen's quick to point out the contradiction.
"I had a clear vision and I didn't want that diluted. My shop is about more than just making money; we've lost touch with the community shops which are not just about making money but about much more. It's about meeting friends and neighbors that perhaps you haven't seen in months."
So perhaps it's not just the old-fashioned product, but the pairing of the old-fashioned product with the old-fashioned ethos which has ensured that both Annie's Sweet Shop and the Fudge Fairy have been successful.
As Helen says: "it's a two-way relationship between me and my customers, and in fact some of the best ideas have come from them".
The Argus' favourite old-school sweets
A QUICK straw-poll at Argus Towers came up with some of the retro sweets which bring back fond childhood memories for us:
- Mint humbugs - a staple of any grandparent's sweet tin
- Peanut brittle - hours of chewy fun
- Bon bons - chewy and sweet - and finger-licking good thanks to the icing sugar coating
- Pear drops - were you a slow dissolver or a cruncher?
- Black jacks - the black tongue was a 1970s badge of honour
- Fruit salads - often paired with black jacks in a bag of penny chews
- Space dust - popping candy, really, but for those of a certain generation forever linked with moon landings and David Bowie
- Sherbert dips - fun but prone to exploding in a pocket or bag
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