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Searching for the sugar of yesteryear 

At Cimos in Raleigh, buy your favorite retro candy—then see your dentist.

Photo by Jeremy M. Lange

At Cimos in Raleigh, buy your favorite retro candy—then see your dentist.

Some of you may have seen the finale of last season's Mad Men, in which forever troubled adman Don Draper had a meltdown during a pitch with Hershey, recalling how he used to rummage through johns' pockets at the brothel where he grew up so he could get a Hershey's chocolate bar and feel like a normal kid.

Although we may not have candy-related memories that intense, recollections rush over us when we are reminded of the confections of our youth. I recently went on a brief Whatchamacallit-buying binge when I reminisced about consuming the peanut butter-and-chocolate treat as a child.

Thankfully, Hershey bars and Whatchamacallits are still common. But what about those hard-to-find confections? Recently, a friend told me about his love for MilkShake Bars, a delicacy I didn't know existed. This nougat-and-caramel combination showed up in the 1920s and has been discontinued for decades.

"Oh where are you now, you brave stupid bars of yore?" asked Steve Almond, who wrote about his obsession with candy—and those candy bars that so often disappear—in his 2004 book Candyfreak: A Journey Through the Chocolate Underbelly of America. Over time, a lot of candy companies have been put out of business by the big three candy corporations—Hershey, Nestle and Mars—or been taken over by them. (Hollywood Candy Co., which made my pal's MilkShake Bars, went through several owners before becoming part of Hershey in 1996.)

Fortunately, many small companies still make forgotten cult candies that are often distributed to stores through wholesalers. There are several places in the Triangle where you can find many of these lost items. During the summer, The Fresh Market (Raleigh: 6325 Falls of Neuse Road, 919-872-8501; 400 Woodburn Road, 919-828-7888. Chapel Hill: 1200 Raleigh Road, 919-932-7501, thefreshmarket.com) has old-fashioned candy displays in its stores, featuring such old-school gems as Clark Bars (aka the original Butterfinger!), Necco Wafers, Goldenberg Peanut Chews, Big Hunks, Turkish Taffy, etc. Considering that Fresh Market is usually home to expensive sweets such as Vosges Haut-Chocalat bars (my fave is Mo's Bacon Bar), finding these throwbacks there is a delicious surprise.

The Cracker Barrel franchise in Durham (3706 Hillsborough Road, 919-309-2888, crackerbarrel.com) appears to be the most definitive place in the area to satisfy your nostalgic sweet tooth—that is, if you can overlook the cases of racial and sexual discrimination the country-store juggernaut has accumulated over the years. If you succeed in doing that, you'll find a place that traffics in taking people back to the good ol' days—candy-wise, that is. Along with the aforementioned bars that Fresh Market sells, Cracker Barrel is the only place in town I know of to buy Valomilks, chocolate cups filled with marshmallow cream that have been around since the early 1930s.

If you choose not to venture out to the Barrel, you can head over to IT'SUGAR, at Durham's Streets at Southpoint (8030 Renaissance Parkway, 919-248-0965, itsugar.com). This sunny candy chain, which opened last year, sells various candies and novelty items aimed at today's Pretty Little Liars-watching teenager. (The store has just started selling a line of candy bearing the Seventeen magazine logo.) But the place also keeps many retro candies on one of the back side walls, such as Goo-Goo Clusters, a disk-shaped combination of peanuts, caramel, marshmallow and chocolate that claims to be one of the first candy bars invented. (It was created more than 100 years ago in Nashville.) The shop also carries Abba Zabas, that crazy taffy treat with peanut butter nestled inside.

For a while, Tennessee-based chain The Lollipop Shop had a store in Raleigh's North Hills, which was fully stocked with candies from yesteryear. Unfortunately, the store recently closed, but an independent store in downtown Raleigh has similar sweet tastes and a fondness for memories. Cimos (111 E. Hargett St., Raleigh, 919-838-6640, cimosraleigh.com), a year-and-a-half-old curio outlet, deals in books, quirky knickknacks and, more important, candy. Along with offering Big Hunk bars and candy cigarettes, the place has large bowls filled with chocolate coins, Tootsie Rolls, penny candy—the works. Proprietor Amy Griffith says the jawbreakers (15 cents) and the Smarties (20 cents) are the most popular items at her store. She also sells a lot of Milk Duds, mostly to people looking to enjoy an affordable night at the movies. "I get people that, maybe, are going to the movies at Marbles and buy candy because it's a little bit less expensive than buying it at a movie theater."

Griffith was looking to open a spot that resembled the sort of candy stores she frequented as a kid in New York. "It was kind of to go back to the old-school kind of ways and go back to my childhood, where we had a penny candy store just around the block from my grammar school, and we would go there after school," Griffith says. "And it was just the best thing to do. It was just such a big treat to go to the store that I really wanted to bring back something like that to remind people of their youth."

This article appeared in print with the headline "I want candy."

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