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Meet the Candy Man Who Teaches Nostalgia at His Store

He’ll also be the closing keynote speaker at IRDC 2022

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Meet the Candy Man Who Teaches Nostalgia at His Store
Gregory Cohen
This candy maker from Tallahassee, Fla., runs a New York-style candy store. He offers nostalgia while making candy based on Newtonian physics principles. He’ll also be the closing keynote speaker at IRDC 2022.

So, candy man, how did you get into the world of confectionery?

It probably started when I started baking bread and selling it door-to-door in my Brooklyn neighborhood. I’d read about another kid who did this successfully. I liked to bake and my parents encouraged me. And my mother, who comes from a family of business people, taught me concepts like cost analysis.

How did that develop into Lofty Pursuits?

A long story, I’m afraid. We moved to Florida when I was 16. I didn’t have any friends so I gravitated toward solo pursuits. I taught myself to juggle. My father had a wood shop in our home, and I started making juggling equipment and selling it at juggling conventions. In several years, it had turned into a pretty successful business and eventually I rented a storefront in Tallahassee in 1993. The business I have today is actually an outgrowth of that enterprise.

So bread and circus. But where’s the candy?

I’ll get to that. I made and wholesaled juggling equipment in the back of the store, and in the front I sold yo-yos, toys, things like that.

I discovered that I was good at making the juggling equipment, and good at selling it, but my wholesale business had turned into a collection agency – and I was a very bad collection agent. So I stopped wholesaling, and devoted my attention to the storefront. And I got very involved in the yo-yo industry.

Meet the Candy Man Who Teaches Nostalgia at His Store
No Eggs, No Cream…?

Okay, Brooklyn boy, here’s your chance to blow the lid off that most mysterious of New York candy store legends. Everyone loves the egg cream. But it has neither egg nor cream. So how did it get its name?

Perhaps not surprisingly, it originated with New York’s Yiddish theater. The company moved back and forth from New York to Paris and, in Paris, one of the actors discovered a soda fountain drink called chocolat et crème, made with chocolate and milk. He brought it back to a candy store on Second Avenue. But in a combination of New Yorkese and Yiddish patois, it became a chocolate egg cream.

And you serve it at your soda fountain?

Absolutely. For me, it’s part of the wonderful nostalgia of that candy store on Avenue M when I was growing up. Not all my customers are from New York. But the store is filled with touchstones to bring people back to the memories they think they have. I teach customers their nostalgia.

An up-and-down business?

Well, it became that as yo-yos, and toys in general, turned into a commodity business and Amazon became an auction site for the lowest price. I got out of that, but how do I keep people coming into my store? I rented a larger space and tried to recreate my childhood memory of the Ben Chodosh candy store on Avenue M in Brooklyn. I dropped a soda fountain into the middle of my store, with spinning counter stools and jars of large pretzels. It was my effort to give people a compelling reason to come inside.

Sweet move.

I have a marketing background and I know everything starts with a story. So, for example, I created a fountain menu with 52 different kinds of sundaes. Why 52 sundaes? Because there are 52 Sundays in the year.

Ice cream led to candy making, which I’ll talk about at IRDC next month. I’ll also, by the way, be making candy while I talk and offering tasty samples. That’s real storytelling.

PHOTO GALLERY (4 IMAGES)

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As a journalist, writer, editor and commentator, Steve Kaufman has been watching the store design industry for 20-plus years. He has seen the business cycle through retailtainment, minimalism, category killers, big boxes, pop-ups, custom stores, global roll-outs, international sourcing, interactive kiosks, the emergence of China, the various definitions of “branding” and Amazon.com. He has reported on the rise of brand concept shops, the demise of brand concept shops and the resurgence of brand concept shops. He has been an eyewitness to the reality that nothing stays the same, except the retailer-shopper relationship.

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