In a sweet ending, 'oldest candy store' spared

The display windows at Old City's Shane Candy Co. were empty this week, but their barren state is not permanent. Neighbors Ryan and Eric Berley bought the business and plan to reopen it.
The display windows at Old City's Shane Candy Co. were empty this week, but their barren state is not permanent. Neighbors Ryan and Eric Berley bought the business and plan to reopen it.
Posted: May 20, 2010

The display windows were distressingly bare one day last week at Shane Candy Co., the Old City fixture that - while the claim is hard to pin down - calls itself "America's Oldest Candy Store."

In his back cubicle, owner Barry Shane picked at his lunch, overseeing the dismantlement of the place: he'd sold it hours before to the irrepressible Berley brothers, whose vintage Franklin Fountain ice cream parlor is a few doors west on Market Street.

Those windows - squared-off plates of glass - had been reliably filled with the tidings of the season, at least since the Shane family took over the spot in 1911.

You could not help but be charmed, passing by 110 Market, by the shiny cardboard hearts packed with handcrafted butter creams, the Christmas smorgasbords, and chocolate Easter eggs of ostrich dimension.

But to Shane, the windows had a more rueful story. Back in the late 1970s, he volunteered, they were gracious wraps, the glass leaded and curving.

Then a derelict threw a brick through one, and Shane's father Edward hired a company to install a steel grate to protect them.

But the worker's ladder slipped and - you wouldn't believe it! - crashed through the remaining intact window.

So much for the beautiful curved windows. Until now. "The Berleys have already ordered new ones," he said.

They are planning to refit and reopen the threadbare, four-story building in the fall (under the Shane name), extending their warm-season ice cream business with a line of old-school holiday candy.

Year after year, the city's once-prolific candy-manufacturing scene has been giving up the ghost. So too with most of the mom-and-pop candy shops (though Lore's at Seventh and Chestnut lives on, and new-school artisans have emerged - John & Kira's, and Éclat among them).

Then four years ago, Young's Candies near 28th and Girard went dark when master craftsman Harry Young died, dropping the curtain on the era of hand-pulled candy canes, fragile walnut pillows, and the intricate, sugar-candy clear toys - molded into the busts of presidents and sailing ships, lumbering elephants and dashing firemen - that had sparkled under Christmas lights here for more than a century.

But that's where the story of Shane's Past - the last of the oldest Mohicans - and the story of Shane's Future began, coincidentally, to intersect.

The suspendered Berley brothers (Ryan and Eric) had long seen themselves as stewards of the city's confectionary history, searching out antique formulas to reconstruct old-timey sodas and floats, reviving the fresh-waffle ice cream sandwich, even making their own incomparable hot fudge sauce.

So when Harry Young's priceless clear-toy molds went up for auction, they bought the bunch of them, painstakingly studied the disappearing craft and, for the last few seasons, have had clear toys back on the shelf at their handsomely restored parlor near Second and Market.

Once upon a time, that same pride of place was a hallmark of Shane's. You could marvel at the glint of the mahogany moldings; the silvery tooling on the cash register. It was a show just to watch the elderly counter women deliberately scissor the wrapping paper and tie the ribbons in bows.

I waited in crowded aisles with the other holiday shoppers to buy the boxes of chocolate-covered jellies - my mother's favorite - that the late Carmela Laura, the last of the great hand-dippers, swirled with that lacy "R" for raspberry and "O" for orange.

But while Shane's was still beating its butter cream from scratch, and making trays of (not extruding) caramel, and its own marshmallow, it had lost heart in recent years, the energy ebbing, the housekeeping sliding.

So what might have been one more obituary last week seemed instead like a bullet dodged: Barry Shane said he'd give the Berleys his recipes, show them the ropes.

He couldn't have found more dutiful heirs to carry on the Shane's tradition - to burnish, just in the nick of time, the fading luster of Shane's good name.

Contact columnist Rick Nichols at 215-854-2715 or Read his recent work at

comments powered by Disqus