Minnesota’s Largest Candy Store is a bright yellow hangar-like building that calls to motorists heading south along 169 to Mankato or Emma Krumbee’s. We’re not attesting to the truth of its claim to superlative size; that’s its proper name. Or it seems to be, given the capitalization and the lack of another name anywhere else on the building. It’s part of Jim’s Apple Farm, one of a string of orchards that runs south from the Twin Cities into southern Minnesota.
Editor’s note: We revisited Minnesota’s Largest Candy store in October, 2014.
In a day when it’s all about social media and if Google can’t find you, you don’t exist, the only way you can find Minnesota’s Largest Candy Store is by driving right by it. In which case, you can’t miss it.
Inside the yellow hangar are tables and tables of candy. There’s no fancy retail shelving or endcaps and all the signs are hastily handwritten. Two kinds of candy-lovers are going to be very happy here: retro candy junkies and those nostalgic for the chocolates they fell for while backpacking around Europe.
How can you not smile when you see Pop Rocks for the first time in 20 years? Or candy buttons, Nik Nips (those wax bottles filled with colored sugar water), Smarties lollipops (the ones shaped like UFOs), Sugar Daddies, Sugar Babies, Charleston Chews, and candy necklaces — that, I think, is the whole candy counter from the camp where I took swimming lessons as a kid. There’s a huge display of candy cigarettes, too, which might make some people nostalgic, even though, really, can anybody say they liked those chalky white flavorless sticks? (And, yes, their sale is banned in St. Paul and some other municipalities.)
If you’ve spent any time in European youth hostels, you’ve said or heard something like this: “A Mars Bar is actually a Milky Way and a Milky Way is really a 3 Musketeers and why does everybody over here love Bounty so much?” If you miss the European Mars Bar — chocolate-covered whipped nougat, like a Milky Way, but not as fluffy — this is the place to stock up. Also stock up on Milka, Cadbury, Yorkies, Flakes, Haribo, Lindt, and the hard-to-find Ritter Sport with yogurt. Two Canadian favorites on my husband’s wish list, Violet Crumble and Smarties, were not to be found, but I did pick up a Coffee Crisp for him.
The other happy customers: Kids who care more about crazy novelty and packaging than taste. There’s a six-inch gummy bear and a 36-inch gummy snake, pixie sticks as tall as a toddler, and all sorts of plastic, battery-operated ways to get high-fructose corn syrup into your mouth in novel ways. I noticed a certain phenomenon as I walked around: a candy necklace abandoned in front of the Fruit Stripe gum, a peanut butter cup plunked down in front of the Willy Wonka chocolates. It was clear what was going on: Lucky kids were told to pick out one treat and, as they walked around, their choices just kept getting better and better and better.
It’s not just kids, however, walking around with smiles on their faces. I overheard an elderly lady say to her family, “I found my Mallo Cup and now I’m happy.” She did, indeed, look very happy.
Candy only takes up about half the store, however. The rest is given over to apples, homemade pies (fresh and frozen), a ten-foot long shelf of local fruit preserves, and another, just as long, of pickled things, from green beans to eggs. Four cooler cases hold dozens and dozens of small-brand sodas, from Jones and Boylan to the even more obscure ($1.69 apiece, pack your own six-pack). One whole case is dedicated solely to root beer.
I asked the woman behind the cash register for the telephone number, so I could call later and ask about the history of the place. She said, “Nope, no telephone. But you can talk to that man over there. He’s the owner.”
She pointed to a tall man in red suspenders who was bagging apples by the front door. He looked a lot like Jim Bob Duggar — healthy, wholesome, deeply content — and was smiling to himself as he worked and greeted customers. A few were joshing him: “What are you now, the stock boy?” “Yep!” he grinned. “That’s me.”
I apologized for interrupting him and explained what I was after: an online magazine would love to tell its readers more about his store. “Would you believe I have never been on the internet?” His grin grew even wider as he asked. And, yes, at that moment I very much believed that this man had no use for the lackadaisical cynicism of LOLcats and epic fails and awkward family portraits. He was surrounded by candy and apples and happy customers. Lots of happy customers. All of whom found their way to the giant, bright yellow hangar without a website or, as far as I’ve ever seen, any advertising.
“That’s okay,” I said. “I can mail you the article when it’s done. Can I get your number and call you at a more convenient time?” Without hardening his face in the least he answered, “You can give me your number.” I wrote it down for him, adding my email address out of sheer habit and watched him put it in his jeans pocket. This guy is never going to call me, I thought. He’s got so many better things to do.
I wanted to ask him so much — about the history of the place; about his candy connoisseurship; whether he, in fact, stocks 57 or 87 kinds of licorice, as competing roadside signs claim; why he doesn’t stock any Turkish Pepper or Finnish chocolate — but not enough to harass a man doing an honest day’s work in a business he clearly loved.
He never did call. And I don’t blame him in the least.
As I left, I watched him, in his red suspenders and chambray work shirt, step out of the store and stride purposefully toward the field behind it. He still looked happy. As happy as a guy who owns the biggest candy store in Minnesota.
Minnesota’s Largest Candy Store and Jim’s Apple Farm