South Chicago shopping and Commercial Avenue

In the 1960’s, Mother and I shopped at the first Jewel store on 92nd and South Chicago Avenue earning a set of plastic furniture that my cousin helped produced. The building is there but empty now. Also on 92nd, we would go to Steel City Bank. Mom liked to buy her clothes at Gasman’s and if I was patient while she tried on clothes, we would go across the street to Bargain Town where I could get a new paint by number. When selling Girl Scout cookies, our troop would sell in front of Goldblatts and for awhile I was a Rainbow girl attending meetings at the Masonic Lodge at 91st and Exchange. Building is there as well but empty and not in the best shape. Many of my Catholic friends attended Immaculate Conception at 87th and Commercial.

It went on and on when talking about Commercial Avenue or South Chicago Avenue. There was one place after including restaurants, bakeries, hardware stores, shoe stores, dress shops, 5 and 10 stores, theaters, banks and the small business man thrived. The last mill at the South Works site of the United States Steel Corporation (US Steel) closed in 1992. The loss of this major employer has taken a significant toll on South Chicago particularly its economic activity. So in 2016,a plan was put together to revitalize the area focusing on Commercial Avenue between 83rd an 93rd. In ten years, they hope that the economic vitality of the area will be recaptured.

The owners of the Chicago Skyway want to get involved with a community improvement project, it makes sense to jump on the opportunity. Such is the case with the South Chicago Underline Project, a proposal to add facilities for walking, biking, playing, and relaxing under the elevated highway on the Southeast Side

Brachs

Another Chicago original to celebrate National Candy Month! And it was the candy corn celebrated at Halloween that I enjoyed the best as a child. Brach’s candy corn is still the  best selling candy in the US today. I also remember the conversation hearts known as Sweethearts candy passed out at Valentines Day as well as Jelly Bird eggs at Easter. For my children, it was Jolly Ranchers that was my son’s favorite. The company was founded by Emil Brach in 1904 located at the corner of North Avenue and Town Street in Chicago.With a 1,000 investment, he named it “Brach’s Palace of Sweets” and employed his two sons to help.

Emil started with one kettle. Investing in additional equipment he was able to lower his production costs and sell his candy for 20 cents per pound. According to Wikipedia,by 1911, his production had reached 50,000 pounds per week and his first product was caramels. In 1913, Brachs developed the first candy factory and a second factory in 1921. In the late 1940’s an explosion happened killing many but Brachs continued on building a state of the art facility, becoming the largest candy manufacturer in the world.

One of the sons was 75 years old when he sold the company in 1966. Bertram Johnson bought the company in 1980 and moved its headquarters  but it started to decline and he bought Brochs Candy Company and merged the two which brought on new products. In 2003, Barry Callebaut AG purchased the new company. As part of the deal, Barry Callebaut agreed to assume $16 million in debt, fund restructuring efforts for 5 years and paid a symbolic $1 (one dollar) for the company.

In 2007, the company was sold to the Farley’s & Sathers Candy Company, which in turn merged with the Ferrara Pan Candy Company in 2012 to form the Ferrara Candy Company, based in Chicago, moving its headquarters here in 2019.

Tootsie Roll

As a child, I received a lot of Tootsie Rolls at Halloween, trick and treating. They were bought in bulk so parents could hand out several. Though I liked the Tootsie Pop the best. Per parents permission, I passed Tootsie Pops out to kindergarten students this year and was surprised how much they loved them. An old product continues to provide new flavor and excitement. Growing up in the 1950’s, Tootsie Roll sponsored children’s programs while many of us remember their commercials. Manufactured in New York in 1896 by Leo Hirshfield, the now Chicago-based company has grown to become one of the country’s largest candy companies. In 1931, Sweets Corp. which owned Tootsie Roll, extended the line with the Tootsie Pop, a Tootsie Roll center coated with a hard-candy shell on a lollipop stick. The company struggled during the Great Depression in New York. However, finally came to Chicago.

According to Dining Chicago, in 1966, Sweets Corp. changed its name to Tootsie Roll Industries and opened the Chicago plant at 7401 S. Cicero Ave. that is now its headquarters. Melvin Gordon, CEO for several decades and who passed away in 2015 at 95 believed in hiring Chicagoan’s and kept the headquarters here for that reason. I knew several who worked for the company that offered great benefits. His wife worked by side with him, married for 65 years and was CEO.

The company also operates factories in four other states, plus Mexico and Canada. The manufacturer claims to produce more than 64 million Tootsie Rolls. Tootsie brands include: Tootsie Roll, Tootsie Pop, Charms Blow Pop, Mason Dots, Andes, Sugar Daddy, Charleston Chew, Dubble Bubble, Razzles, Caramel Apple Pop, Junior Mints, Cella’s Chocolate-Covered Cherries, and Nik-L-Nip.

Four more Chicago land candy shops

Windy City Sweets has specialized in candy and handmade chocolates since 1983. Located on Broadway in Chicago, some of their bestsellers are their handmade chocolate fudge and their elegant chocolate truffles sold in a beautiful box. Windy City Sweets has over 1,200 different products. They were also named 2017 Best Candy Store by Chicago Magazine and one of the Cutest Ice Cream Shops in the USA by Cosmopolitan Magazine. They have a full menu of quality ice cream as well.

Candyality is described as chewy, colorful, and crunchy, just a few of the words that describe their candy creations. Candyality carries thousands of bulk items and sweet treats including gummies, sours, taffy, and more. Need M & M’s in 21 colors? They have it. They carry all the nostalgic brands. Chicago entrepreneur, born and raised in the city, Terese McDonald love the penny candy memories of her childhood. A former sales and training executive, she opened Candyality in 2007. In Food Network magazine, they were voted best candy shop in in Illinois. There are two stores one located on Southport Ave and the other on Clark St.

Galena’s Kandy Kitchen was established in 1974 when George Paxton left Chicago and the overwhelming business of computers to come to Galena, Illinois, and open his confectionery. His father William (Bill) Paxton helped initiate Chuckles candy in the 1930’s and continued on inspiring his son until he retired from the candy business at the age of 98. They are known locally for their “Pecan Georgies” named after George. George passed away from cancer in 2011.  Galena’s Kandy Kitchen is known for its delicious hand-molded chocolate bars with potato chips as well as great jelly beans that can be purchased online.

Andersons Candy Shop in Richmond offers an interesting history with Arthur Anderson beginning a candy shop in 1919 in Chicago and then moved his family to Richmond in 1926, purchasing a home. He ran his business out of his front porch and living room selling candy months that were not hot and ice cream in the summer. In 1933, his business took on new meaning after Grandpa and his family visited the Chicago  World’s Fair. He came home with the first air conditioner in McHenry County, of course, this purchase allowed him to sell  chocolates year round. Some of their bestsellers are the buttercream and handmade caramel.

Chicago’s Rainbow Beach

During the early 1960s, I always wanted a backyard pool as a child. My best friend had one above ground and we could swim often. When she wasn’t around,I got stuck with a sprinkler in my backyard instead. But we did travel from Calumet Heights to Rainbow Beach on hot summer days. I remember the alewives the most. Large die off’s of this fish littered the beaches and Rainbow was one of them. I also remember some of my first sunburns at Rainbow Beach being treated with Solarcaine, Noxzema or Calamine lotion but as long as you had a portable radio, you didn’t care. I was in my pre-teens when attending Rainbow. Many who were a few years older took the bus or learned to drive in their parking lot.

Chuckman’s Places on WordPress offers some wonderful Chicago pictures from the past as well as vintage post cards. John Chuckman grew up in Chicago having one of the best collections of vintage photography. He is a former chief economist for an oil company in Canada. He lives in Canada and his writing appears on many internet sites.

Rainbow Beach was named for the U.S. Army’s 42nd Rainbow Division that fought in World War I and began its journey in 1908 as two beaches. Rocky Ledge Beach was crowded with changing rooms and bathrooms illuminated with electric lights. The city bought more land and expanded in 1918 officially naming the beach Rainbow. Located at 75th street and Lake Michigan, for many years the park lacked sufficient indoor recreational facilities, so in 1999 the Chicago Park District constructed a large field house designed by David Woodhouse Architects. Today, Rainbow Beach features a gymnasium, fitness center and multipurpose rooms, handball courts, and one of the oldest community gardens in Chicago.

Number 23 and telephone exchanges

During school one day, I sat with kindergarten students watching the teacher talk about numbers and I heard the number 23. And after that, I was gone into my own special memory of the number that was assigned to me during my own kindergarten days. All I could think about was that 23. I was number 23. Even without looking for the number among my own memorabilia, number 23 has been emblazoned deeply in my mind since kindergarten just like my Baby Boomer phone number too. Essex 5- 5930 or dialed as Es 5-5930. Essex was a street located in the South side of Chicago.We had to proudly recite our phone numbers throughout our early elementary years. And most of us from that generation will not forget those important numbers decades later.

telephone exchange name or central office name was a distinguishing and memorable name assigned to a central office. It identified the switching system to which a telephone was connected. Each central office served a maximum of 10,000 subscriber lines identified by the last four digits of the telephone number. Areas or cities with more subscribers were served by multiple central offices, possibly hosted in the same building.

WBEZ offers a picture of a Chicago phone book of all the exchanges in the 1950’s and 1960’s. There were specific exchanges for Police and fire since a 911 emergency number did not exist. It was PO for police as well as FI for fire followed by various numbers outlining specific communities. Phones numbers surrounding Midway airport started with Midway 3 or had to do with the airport itself. But some were just names that did not refer to any area and were actually used in other US cities.

The best candy shops began in Chicago

For me, my weakness has been a toss up between ice cream and homemade candy. Celebrating National Candy month, the following shops described in the article began in Chicago and still exist today. Another article will explore suburban favorites.

Margie’s Candies story begins in 1921 George Poulos opened an ice cream parlor on the North Side. The shop became known as Margie’s Candies in 1933, when Poulos’ son George Peter Poulos married Margie Michaels. Still family owned, Margie’s is known for their fudge and Kosher dark chocolate. Many love the variety of homemade ice cream as well. Margie’s original location is still open at Western Avenue.

Fannie May  continues to provide the best in new gourmet chocolate creations as well as traditional favorites.The first Fannie May retail store was opened by H. Teller Archibald in 1920 at 11 N. LaSalle St. in Chicago. Fannie May is also a great way to bring profits to your fundraiser and offer gifts to your business clients. Fannie May is available for pick up by calling any Fannie May store, which you can check out here to find a location near you!

Another charming shop decorated with original Tiffany lamps, an old-fashioned Coke machine and other memorabilia bought by the family is located on Montrose Avenue. Amy’s Candy Bar is located in Lincoln Square was opened in 2011 originally inspired by Amy’s grandmother,Geraldine. As a child, Amy spent hours watching and helping her grandmother bake but decided to forge a career with a degree in psychology and marketing. She worked in corporate America in later years. In 2006, she decided to leave her present position and enroll in the French Pastry School in Chicago. Amy’s shop offers some of the best hand-crafted confections that include her signature sea salt caramel. You can also order your favorites online.

Katherine Anne Confections promotes cocktail truffle” month in their kitchen, and they thought a banana daiquiri truffle would be a great choice for the month. Extra ripe bananas, white rum, and milk/semisweet chocolate with a touch of sea salt is part of the creation. At the age of 10, Katherine would use cream from her family’s Jersey cows to create soft, old-fashioned caramels on their farm in Wisconsin. “Katherine’s Karamels” were sold at her Dad’s office and quickly became a local favorite. In 2012, Katherine opened her cafe in the Logan Square neighborhood on Armitage and she also offers excellent coffee drinks.

Cunis Candies originally opened its doors in 1933 on 79th street by George Askounis. Now, Kathy Biesiada owns the store in South Holland which has been a south side favorite since 1971 and still family owned. Cunis is especially known for their ice cream as well. Some delights include the Turtle Sundae and Peach Ice Cream topped with fresh peaches, the latter available in June. They take pride in their homemade chocolates that include freshly dipped turtles, chocolate strawberry’s, chocolate covered orange peels and in the fall, the best caramel apples;  which are first dipped in caramel, rolled in pecans, then drizzled with around a quarter pound of milk or dark chocolate.

Cupid Candies,another family owned business was founded by Paul Stefanos in 1936 has been producing quality chocolate and serving Chicago land residents in their own retail stores for the past 68 years. The first store was at 79th and Ashland, where only fudge, toffee, and popcorn were sold. By 1940 Paul Stefanos, and his wife Pauline, opened another store at 3207 W. 63 rd Street, along with a small manufacturing facility, where the chocolate line really grew. They continue to manufacture chocolate for some of the finest candy shops in Chicago that include Crate and Barrel. Currently, three locations are available in Chicago, Oaklawn and Orland Park that offer a soda fountain service.