Address: 1415 E. State Blvd.
Hours: 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Mondays to Fridays and 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturdays; closed Sundays
Contact: Call 482-1160 or go to www.abbybrown.com
In an age where many retailers have reduced the joys of special Easter treats to mere egg-shaped candy bars, it’s good to know places such as Abby Brown’s Candy Shoppe still exist.
Where else can you get a sweet reproduction of Van Gogh’s “Starry Night,” or Da Vinci’s “Mona Lisa?”
Not to mention a chunk of chocolate molded into the Hoosier State, which owner Katie Poore likes to describe as “eating your way through Indiana.” Which really isn’t a bad way to spend a day.
Poore makes the molded chocolates, almond bark and some of her other goodies at their store on East State Boulevard. She buys the rest of the candy from 14 U.S. companies.
“We’re a Middle America candy store for grown-ups,” she says.
She owns the shop with her “mostly retired” husband, Daniel, who opened it more than 30 years ago. It’s named after his great aunt, who had run a candy shop in Anderson from the 1940s until her retirement.
Poore also sells fudge, butter caramels, cordials (rum, raspberry, mandarin orange and amaretto), truffles, Buckeyes, creams and chocolate-covered sunflower seeds. The chocolate river rocks look like real pebbles. Her best-sellers are malted milk balls and chocolate-covered espresso beans. The toasted-coconut marshmallow squares and handmade dinosaur lollipops are new this year.
She also carries about 40 kinds of black licorice, which has a devout following.
And there are plenty of old-school options, such as crystallized cream wafers and sanded cinnamon balls.
She has tried to carry other unusual chocolates over the years but has found that Fort Wayne is as conservative in its candy cravings as it is in its political leanings.
Not much has changed at Abby Brown’s since it opened. It still boasts a general store atmosphere, with wooden floors and antique glass cases, which Daniel Poore created. His wife jokes that he has the soul of a shopkeeper from the 1800s.
Most of her customers still are women older than 35, who travel from Michigan, Ohio and all over Indiana for their favorite treats.
The store still does virtually no advertising, except for a crawl at the bottom of The Weather Channel and through its Web site at www.abbybrown.com.
Poore, who enjoys her role as the proverbial kid in a candy store, does everything with the help of two part-time employees. It’s a lot of work but a lot of fun.
“We hang on because we’re little,” she says, allowing the store to ride out the economic slumps so far.
And she loves the neighborhood. A few years ago, she and Daniel looked at other areas around the city for potential locations in case the library’s renovation forced them to move, but they decided to stay.
If customers are looking for penny candy, Poore sends them to Pio’s Market up the street. If they want the glossy gourmet version, she tells them about DeBrand Fine Chocolates (“We send people there all the time,” she says.).
Many candy companies have channeled all their production to Mexico or overseas, but Poore only buys from those that make their goodies in the U.S.
On a recent day, wrapped gift boxes are stacked about 2 feet high and filled with assorted chocolates.
Poore is unpacking a new batch of Christmas lollipops, wreaths, reindeer, stars and Santa faces. They are handmade, using antique molds, by a company in New Hampshire.
“These are phenomenally cool,” she says. “They taste good, they don’t have that sweetness.”
Like most candy retailers, she makes the majority of her sales from November through May, kept busy by a spate of sugary holidays: Christmas, Easter, Mother’s Day. She’s closed on Sundays, so she can make chocolates.
Her chocolates range from $19.95 to $22.95 a pound. The jar candies (such as malted milk balls, and licorice) range from $3.95 to $10.95 a pound.
The shop’s popular handmade caramel apples will be back next fall, after Poore learns how to make the caramel this summer. (That has been her husband’s job traditionally, but he has been ill.)
She has no plans to sell out to a larger company or retire anytime soon.
“They’ll probably just carry me out of here,” she jokes. “I have trouble with days off, being bored.”
Her newest diversion is creating fancy labels – birthdays, congratulations, witty sayings – for the Belgian chocolate bars.
And of course, chatting with her customers, which is one of the best parts of the job. It can also be the saddest part. Over the years, she’s watched many of them grow old, become ill and die.
She admits she can’t always remember their names, but she rarely forgets what her regulars like.
“If you’re looking for a treat, we’ve got something for you,” she says.