“Grandpa started and he had three sons, and my father was one,” said Margie Schmidt, the inherited owner of the 90 year-old Schmidt’s Candy Store on Jamaica Avenue in Woodhaven, Queens.
“My mother used to be able to name a candy store or ice cream parlour on every block from 75th to 95th,” said Schmidt, describing how the street’s look has changed over the years. “Now, we’re the only homemade candy store in Queens. I believe.”
Schmidt makes almost all of the store’s candy and chocolate by herself, apart from a few jars of Swedish fish and sugarless candy.
“That’s not even chocolate,” said Schmidt, pointing despairingly at the sparse display of sugar-free chocolate.
While the holiday season is keeping Schmidt busier than ever, working sometimes 18-hour shifts that can begin as early as 2 a.m., she still holds doubts about the future of her nearly century old family business.
“I’m trying to stay alive, but business is bad,” said Schmidt. “I think because it is a luxury item, and where we are a blue collar neighbourhood, people have to figure out what’s a necessity. And where I think chocolate’s a necessity, most people? No.”
While Schmidt says she’s struggling to keep the store afloat, the loyal customers of Schmidt’s Candy Store continue to support her, even from far away.
“I tip my hat to you!,” said Aidan, a 13-year-old boy who is more commonly known by Schmidt as the red fish boy.
“He comes in here and asks every other day, can I get $2 of the red fish?,” said Schmidt describing Aidan, who by her accounts had grown at least an inch since she last saw him.
Schmidt describes the neighbourhood as being a blue collar, largely immigrant population that can’t always afford her luxury goods, but her customers come from as far away as Staten Island.
“She’s the best,” said Parker, 54. “Marge’s the hardest worker with the sweetest sweets.” Parker came all the way from Staten Island stock up on $30 worth of “any kind of chocolate” that day and he hopes that this batch will last him till January.
Schmidt is firm in her belief that the quality of her chocolate usurps the corporate stores, or as she describes them, “frou frou stores”, higher prices and fancier presentation.
“Homemade. That’s the difference,” said Schmidt. “Hoity toity, I can’t do. It’s not me, and there’s nothing fancy here. But it’s good!”
And Schmidt is right, there is nothing fancy about her store. From the repurposed ice cream tin containers from when the store used to sell ice cream, to the cardboard displays, everything about Schmidt’s store is definitively pared down.
Her chocolate, which is perhaps why it is so popular, follows the same design mantra that Schmidt swears by: the basics.
“It’s in the ingredients. Sugar, cocoa, chocolate liqeur, cream and occasionally some nuts. That’s it,” said Schmidt. Her blue Yankees cap was generously coated with the sugary dust of that mornings marshmallow batch.
“It’s a crazy life, but then again I’m kind of crazy too!”