Family Run is an original A Plus Lifestyle series: Every month, we profile amazing families who work together in some capacity. From starting businesses, inventing products, collaborating artistically, and beyond, these family members are making positive contributions to the world together, and strengthening their family bonds in the process.
Down a bustling New York City street on the Lower East Side, a bright blue and white facade draws crowds of people looking for their favorite lollipops, gummies, chocolates and more, to satisfy both childhood nostalgias and current sweet obsessions. The place they are flocking to is Economy Candy.
On this particular day, I walk into Economy Candy for my first time, greeted by floor-to-ceiling displays of, you guessed it, candy. I see vintage signs and games, piles of Mary Janes and bins filled with every Jelly Belly flavor imaginable. There are oversized Tootsie Pops stacked in front of Push Pops, a fully-stocked Coca Cola fridge facing a table of 99 cent candy (think Junior Mints, Nerds, Skittles and Bit-O-Honey) and heaps of chocolate, just waiting to be devoured.
It's like a real-life Candy Land, and I'm ready to explore.
To learn more about this exciting place and its history, I visit and talk with the Cohen family who have run Economy Candy for generations. Because if the bright displays of candy aren't enough to melt my heart, the store's history — and those who've upheld it — surely will.
Photo by Claire Peltier
The store started out as a shoe and hat repair shop, with a small push cart selling candy outside its main doors. When the Great Depression hit in the 1930s, the candy began outselling the shoe and hat business, and by 1937, Economy Candy was born. When Morris 'Moishe' Cohen returned from World War II, he and his brother took over the business, and it has remained in the Cohen family ever since; Morris' son, Jerry, and his wife Ilene took over 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 run the business together for the last 30 [plus] years, and have now passed the reins to Mitchell, who joined four years ago (although we still come in when we can)," Jerry says.
It's evident that Mitchell, Jerry's son, has a passion for the business.
"Growing up in the store, you know, I was a kid in a candy store — it doesn't get better than that," Mitchell tells me during my visit to Economy Candy. "Every Sunday, all holidays, I was working at the store. I was here when I could talk [and] when I could walk."
Ilene adds, "One year, he wanted to get Jerry a Father's Day present, so he set up a candy stand outside in the street and he sold candy so he was able to buy him a gif.,"
The Cohen's family dynamic hasn't just helped to establish a strong, dependent store — it's helped strengthen their family bond, too.
"Working alongside family is amazing," Mitchell tells me. "My parents are my best friends [and] I work with my wife who's my other best friend."
As for the future of Economy Candy, the family hopes that the store only continues to serve its customers for years.
"This is a family business, and we're going to be here for another 80 years, and hopefully even more," Mitchell says.
To learn more, check out my interview with the Cohen family in the video above.
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