In the village in which I grew up, the very first shop at the end of the downtown strip was the stuff of legend. I lived in an ordinary, quiet, not-quite cul-de-sac so bereft of traffic that children could actually play in the street, and in which everyone pretty much knew everyone.
The trek to the shops was not a terribly big deal, especially after I got my first bicycle. I celebrated my triumph over my training wheels by looking over at my brother cycling in the road, squealing a squee of smug delight and then screaming a scream of “this is the real world” terror as I crashed into a neighbour’s front wall. Refusing to let myself be thwarted by garden brickwork, I soldiered on, knowing that I now had a vehicle with which to traverse the enormous mutant hill that stood at a 40-degree angle between me and the main road like some sort of taunting, concrete, dinosaur bastard.
Onto the main road, past the woods, past the village park, past the village school, past the village church and finally a stretch of shops comes into view. And on the end of that tiny, terraced row of shops, there it was. The mother ship: Carters’ Sweet Shop.
It was a tiny little shoebox of a store, and the way that everything had been crammed into it seemed to us to be some sort of awesome Wonka-esque witchcraft. There was every type of candy imaginable – everything from penny-candy in large jars, to brand-name chocolates and even a decent-sized ice cream section. In the time it took for me to get there, I’d inevitably have amassed a group of friends who were trying to decide whether to spend their pocket money on aniseed balls (yum!), Fun Dips (sugar sticks you could dip in sherbet powder), jelly babies, or all of the above.
My personal favourite were these little guys:
Truly revolting to look at, repulsive to touch, and consumed in questionable amounts, this was even more popular than the fake candy cigarettes that would constantly freak out our teachers. According to my dad, they really did smell and taste of beer, but had no alcohol content, making them about as acceptable as all the other deliciously disgusting crap we ate as kids.
That store was almost a daily pilgrimage, a reliable detour on the way home from school, and the staff were always so lovely. So I was sad when suddenly, one day, seemingly without warning, it closed down. I remember hoping that it was just closing for repairs, or that, according to my primary school understanding of the retail sector, another sweet shop would take its place. It didn’t. Months went by, and the storefront became a carpet shop, and that was it.
It’s a cliche, but a tiny little tuck shop bag of my childhood died that day. It was the only shop in a stretch of opticians and banks and hairdressers and boring takeaways that had any interest to me, and now it had vanished.
I wish I had a photo of the shop, but even identifying it by name online proved difficult. It had been around for decades before I was born, and the tradition of old-fashioned sweet shops can still be found in brick-and-mortar shops today, but of the eye-gougingly expensive variety, because they also sell £7 boxes of imported Lucky Charms cereal. Even the offerings of online shops whose business model is that they’re an old “penny-candy/retro sweet/childhood favourites” retailer is dampened by the fact that it wasn’t really about the range of sellable stock (or even the long-lost price range). It was about cycling my impatient little legs over a mile and a half to get to a magical cornucopia of all things unhealthy, shoehorn it gleefully into my face and then cycle my sugar-bloated little happy demon self back home again.
And so enter Sugar Rush, one of the many new businesses opening up in downtown Salem, right on Essex St. Owned by Helen and Gazmend Taka, the former owners of Fountain Place, there’s not been much I can glean about this little shop, but they did let me pop in and snap a photo of the awesome-looking walls that had just got a fresh lick of paint:
When I saw the name, the first thing I thought of was this, but the term’s been around longer than Wreck-it-Ralph, but it would be kind of cute to have some kind of nod to gamer/nerd-related candy (especially if there are some stores downtown that are kind of bending the rules here and there). The store should be opening up soon, and I hope it sticks around, because it could be one of those businesses that’s good for both locals and tourists.
I don’t want another carpet shop usurper in town. Unless the carpets taste like snozzberries.