Downtown Express photo by Clayton Patterson
Jerry Cohen flanked by employees Madeline, left, and Zulma at Economy Candy
Feeding the Lower East Side’s sweet tooth
By Casey Samulski
Economy Candy is a store as honest as its name, devoted to selling good candy at a good price. When it comes to candy, as owner Jerry Cohen says, “We’ve seen everything and done everything.”
Economy Candy, at 108 Rivington St., between Ludlow and Essex Sts., is a family business going on its third generation. In the back, a small photograph of a younger Cohen and his father is posed between racks of candy.
Cohen’s father started the store back in 1937 at a time when competition was fierce, and the nearest rival business was just down the block. But after the others moved on and “made their millions,” as Cohen said, Economy Candy remained. He hopes his son, Mitchell, at 22, will carry on the family tradition and keep the store going for another 50 years, at least.
Though the candy may have changed over the years, all of the favorites Cohen grew up with are still on the shelves, and there’s plenty of “new, high-end stuff,” as well, he added. As one patron made his purchase last week, Cohen chided him, playfully recalling times the man used to steal bars of the stuff back in their youth. For such a small store, it’s got a deep history and a selection to match everything from Brooklyn Sourballs from across the river to Peregrino candy from Italy.
Cohen is all smiles and magnanimity when it comes to his customers.
“Everyone comes in with a smile on their face and leaves with a bag of candy,” he said.
He noted that some of his customers have been coming since he first started working the register, a kind of loyalty his father fostered and he helped to carry on. He said they only hire locally, giving neighborhood kids some working skills before college.
It takes a different kind of businessman to counsel a customer against buying too much of their product.
“Don’t go crazy,” he said to one woman who asked his advice. As he trimmed down her selection, he explained, “Don’t spoil ’em!” Outside, taped to the storefront windows, are photographs of African children eating and admiring candy Cohen donated to relief packages.
It’s the same kind of good-natured approach one hears when Cohen talks about his father running the business. In some ways, the store still belongs to the kinder, gentler era of that black-and-white photograph in the back.