Economy Candy in New York City's Lower East Side is a multi-generation family-owned candy shop that has been a bustling business for nearly 80 years. As a widely acclaimed penny candy store offering nearly 2,000 different items from Abba Zabba to Zagnut, Economy Candy sends customers back to their childhoods with the cross of a threshold. Second-generation owner Jerry Cohen and his son, third-generation owner Mitchell Cohen, divulge on this thriving business.
Fancy Food & Culinary Products Magazine: Tell us a little about Economy Candy and
how it got started.
Mitchell Cohen: Economy Candy began as a shoe and hat repair shop with a pushcart outside that sold candy. When the Depression hit in the 1930s, the candy cart started bringing in more business than the shoe store, and in 1937, the business transformed into Economy Candy. When my grandfather, Morris "Moishe" Cohen, and his brother-in-law returned from World War II, they took over the business and expanded it to sell chocolate, dried fruit, nuts and more.
Jerry Cohen: There were multiple candy stores back then. The Lower East Side was bustling with tenements filled with immigrant families who shopped in the outdoor markets across the entire neighborhood. There was enough business to go around.
FF: Growing up, was this buisiness in your
JC: When Economy Candy was in its original location, my dad would bring candy and large sacks of fruits and nuts to the store. He would stand outside all day chatting with customers and smoking a cigar. I would work everyday after school and on weekends along with my two sisters and mother. My wife Ilene and I joined full time in the early '80s. We ran the store together with my father for a few years, learning all the tricks of the trade from the original candy man. Ilene and I have passed on the reins to Mitchell, although we still come in when we can.
MC: From when I was five, I stood on a milk crate next to my dad and worked the register. My dad would make me do the math in my head, no matter how long of a line there was. Two and half years ago, after spending more than six years on Wall Street as an investment banker, I left to join the store on a fulltime basis. I love working alongside my Dad—who is my best friend—and learning from him every day.
FF: How have you established and maintained
your reputation among confectioners?
JC: Being in business for almost 80 years, we have developed and maintained all of our direct relationships with confectioners, many of which are still run by the same families. That bond across generations helps us stay in good standing with everyone.
FF: You're considered a hidden gem in the
Lower East Side and are still a penny candy
store. How are you able to stay current while
still offering such an immense discount?
MC: We have been able to stay in business and become the last remaining old-fashioned candy store in the neighborhood through the hard work of my grandparents and parents. They always put the customer first. In the end, we'd rather sell a larger quantity of product to more people around the country at low prices than sell at higher prices to fewer people. When people realize they can get a pound of old fashioned candy—Toosie Rolls, Mary Janes, Smarties, Bit O' Honeys—for $2.99, it brings a big smile to their faces.
FF: You've been transitioning in order to
stay relevant with customers and have some
big plans for your online presence. How do
those plans compare with walk-ins?
JC: Our brick and mortar retail is still our main focus. We have generations of customers including those who shopped as kids who now bring in their grandkids. We rely on the loyalty of our customers as well as word-of-mouth to keep the business growing.
MC: We have had great support from our customers as can be seen by our Yelp and TripAdvisor reviews. By having the largest variety and offering discounted pricing we have seen our online business grow as people from around the country realize we can ship them anything they need. A lot of our online customers are displaced New Yorkers who grew up shopping at Economy Candy.
FF: What's next on the store's horizon?
MC: Don't try to fix what's not broken. We'll continue to be open seven days a week for our growing customer base as well as the influx of tourists who seek out the Lower East Side for some good ole' nostalgia. The store will continue to expand its online presence, and we look forward to launching a revamped website, economycandy.com, in the near future.
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