Monday, October 5, 2015

The 1970s candy store of Cheshire, CT: the Emporium

If you are a human being who grew up on Planet Earth in the 1970s or 1980s, you have a special section of your brain reserved exclusively for memories of candy. Yes, just candy.

People of other eras remember candy, too, of course, but the ‘70s-‘80s were the bubble right before it burst—in other words, the time when kids eating tons of candy with minimal parental restriction peaked. By then, adults knew candy was no health food, but apparently they did not know JUST HOW BAD it was for you.

For people my age from my hometown of Cheshire, CT, most such memories converge on a place called the Emporium, an old-fashioned general store that sold penny candy in barrels.

Recently, I went in search of photos of this fabled fantasyland of yesteryear. My family had none, and both my post on a Cheshire Facebook page and my search through archival issues of the Cheshire Herald yielded zip. I did, however, come across numerous ads for the Emporium, and was surprised to rediscover that it sold more than sweets. In fact, it seems its primary business was the opposite:

Sometimes I use the research skills I’ve acquired not for a book I’m writing but simply to satisfy my personal curiosity. I found out the names of the couple who owned the Emporium and tracked them down: Bud and Marge Gaudio. Bud left me a voice mail message which concluded “It’s nice to be acknowledged after so many years.”

Then he kindly answered a few questions and sent a candy-barrel
s worth of photos (below):

When did the Emporium open and close?

Opened May 6, 1973; closed 1988. [MTN: I could’ve sworn it was gone by 1986 because I don’t remember going there once I was in high school.]

What inspired you to open the Emporium?

We were residing in Branford, CT, and decided to sell our home in order for me to be closer to my employment (art director and ad manager for Worth’s, a women’s clothing store) in Waterbury. Noticing our art and craft, and Marge’s knowledge of nutrition, our realtor suggested we combine these talents in a business and home for our family…thus the purchasing of the Old Grange Hall on Wallingford Road in Cheshire [to turn into the Emporium].

Did you live above the store?

Yes, after much renovation!

What were your best-selling products?

It was not one particular store product but rather [the way we] introduced and maintained an atmosphere of “Old Americana,” a Vermontish country store where one could relax by our potbelly stove or browse…no one ever left without purchasing something, and as our sign at the entrance read, “Enter with a smile…or share one of ours.”

Any funny anecdotes?

Mothers coming in to purchase nutritional items and sending their children to the back room to purchase candy and ice cream.

Why did the Emporium close?

Our children were out of college, getting married…it was time for Marge and I to enter into a new season.

What did you do after that?

I assisted my son in his home remodeling business. Marge did home care for the Visiting Nurse Association. Presently I am one of the founders of the East Haddam (CT) Art League and exhibiting my pen-and-ink art of American lighthouses and historical sites. Marge is volunteering in community services.

What did you think when I contacted you to ask about the Emporium?

DELIGHTED to think that we would be remembered for the many pleasant memories in Cheshire. Thank you sincerely.

As for the 1920s attire in a few of the pictures, Bud explained that they dressed up for holidays including Christmas, Thanksgiving, and Independence Day.

Oh, and see the outdoor signs shaped like an ice cream cone in a couple of the pictures? The Emporium must have had several styles because my mom bought one at the sale the store had when it was closing, and hers looks slightly different.

10/7/15 addendum: This post has been greeted with such enthusiasm online that it got me thinking...movies, TV shows, and even book series can be rebooted...why not stores? And the original building is currently vacant... Any takers?

1 comment:

Brian said...

I remember riding my bike out there to buy "Near Beer" which tasted just like bud light but was completely alcohol free. I'm not sure I would let my daughter brave the route 42 traffic, buy anything that even remotely resembled and alcoholic beverage, or gorge herself on candy. Still, I can't help but think she is missing part of growing up by not hopping on her bike and exploring on her own.

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