Since she was a child, chomping on chocolates from Raney’s Drug Store , Lawrence native Michelle Miller has always had a sweet tooth.
“I was praying for someone to get sick in our family because I knew if we had to go to Raney’s drugs I was going to get an Ice Cube,” a kind of chocolate candy.
Now, at 43, Miller doesn’t have to wait for a family member to get sick to get some candy. She just goes to work.
Miller owns and operates Mass. Street Sweet Shoppe, 727 Massachusetts St., which opened in early November.
“I just decided I wanted to do something neighborly and give back to my community, so I did some research into candy and decided to open a candy store.”
When you step into Miller’s shop, it’s hard not to be, well, a kid in a candy store.
Candy-filled jars line the walls. Cakes, cupcakes and all sorts of chocolates fill the display cases as an old-fashioned malt machine whirs in the back. It’s a sugar-lover’s paradise, especially for Miller.
“Whenever we get anything new in, we’re all tasting it,” she said. “It’s fun work.”
Miller sometimes works 17 hours a day making and selling candy and baked goods out of the store. She gets in early and starts baking. She opens at 10 a.m. and stays open as late as 10 p.m. on weekends.
“The nightlife down here has definitely been beneficial to us,” she said.
But Miller’s new to the candy business and is still figuring things out. There are no secrets to her success or candy selection besides going to candy conventions and some good, old-fashioned online searching.
“There’s a lot of information on the Internet,” she said. “You type in ‘top 10 popular candy bars,’ and there you go. It’s not just about selling candy; it’s about picking the right candy and making sure you have what appeals to everybody.”
But besides what’s popular, Miller said she also stocks the nostalgic. Her best-selling candy, and what brings droves of 20- to 40-somethings, into the store, is candy cigarettes. She carries Nik-L-Nip wax bottles, bazooka gum, Necco Wafers and other old-school confections.
“That has been the coolest part, seeing people that are my age freak out over the nostalgic candy,” she said.
And playing into the theme of a bygone era is the store itself: The walls are colorful. The glass display cases are throwback. There’s cotton candy and a popcorn machine. You half expect to see Gene Wilder in character as Willy Wonka step from around the corner.
For Miller, the job is a way of reconnecting with her childhood.
“My grandma would take us to these five-and-dime candy stores, and back then a quarter went a long way,” she said. “I thought of the days when I was little and life was a lot simpler.”
That’s why Miller said it was important to provide a similar place for today’s youths.
“I made it to where even if you have a nickel or a dime you can at least come in and get something,” she said. “I can honestly say on Wednesdays on early school release, I look forward to the kids coming in because they come in, in large groups. Now they know there’s a place downtown where they can get candy or Jones soda and just the nostalgic stuff.”
Miller added that she doesn’t plan on getting rich. She doesn’t want to have a big retail store or something impersonal. She just wants to know her customers’ names and have a good quality of life.
“You just figure out what you want to do for the rest of your life and what you need to do, and this has been a good decision,” she said. “So far, six weeks into it and I’m looking good.”