Rick Nichols: Sweet: Shane's candy store finally looks ready to reopen

Old-style candy jars typify the atmosphere the Berley brothers will try to maintain. Their attention to detail extends to the time-honored techniques they will use for making candy.
Old-style candy jars typify the atmosphere the Berley brothers will try to maintain. Their attention to detail extends to the time-honored techniques they will use for making candy. (AKIRA SUWA / Staff Photographer)
Posted: November 17, 2011

An entire Christmas season has gone by. And a Valentine's Day. And, no less dismaying, an Easter since the Berley brothers began their clean-out and stubborn, nearing-the-finish-line reclamation of Shane Candies, the faded Old City stalwart.

Actually, stalwart doesn't quite capture the fullness of its history - a confection business at its address (110 Market St.) since the days of the Civil War, its life under the Shane sign dating to 1911, 15 years before the cables of the Ben Franklin Bridge were slung a few blocks north.

That makes it at least a strong claimant for a singularly sweet distinction: oldest, still-operating, making-most-of-its-own-candy shop in America.

Its temporary darkness (the Shane family sold it to the Berleys - Eric and Ryan - in early 2010) has not gone down well with regulars whose grandparents patronized the storybook of a shop, and whose parents did, after them.

Once upon a time, indeed, 20,000 people a day were said to stream past Shane's curved-glass entry to the foot of Market Street, commuting by ferry to Camden (or from it), a river of foot traffic that dried up, along with several competing candy shops, after the completion of the big, blue bridge in 1926.

The faithful would return, as resolutely as the Delaware's shad, generation after generation to the mahogany-trimmed place, bent on customized boxes of holiday buttercreams and chocolate-coated, handmade marshmallows (imported from the candy loft upstairs), for enrobed orange jellies and caramels and candy canes and sweet fondant Easter eggs - the inventory of the season. They were lost without it.

Which is why in recent weeks a palpable impatience has been building. Later this month, perhaps by Black Friday, or surely by early December, the masking paper will come off the front door, and the displays behind those curved glass windows will be made ready: Shane, dark for nearly two years, will ride again.

It will not be quite the same Shane of recent memory. The bones have been scrupulously preserved - and the Victorian aspect, the carved mahogany, the intimate center aisle, the curved-glass entry, funneling you in.

But the staff will be younger (albeit in period dress) than the grandmotherly gift-box wrappers of old, the paint job will be fresher and exquisitely detailed, there will be a few racks of retro candies, and French specialties and premium chocolate bars from the likes of John & Kira's, the upscale chocolatier in North Philadelphia.

Still only 20 percent of the chocolate pieces will be brought in from other small-time candy-makers.

And, yes, at the heart of the place will be house-made chocolates, some still being perfected, many from Shane family recipes, chief among those the beaten cream fillings for the store's famed buttercreams passed down by Barry Shane, the last of the clan in the business.

At a glance - even with the finishing touches yet to be completed last week - one encountered a new and improved model: "We like to think of it as a silver trophy that just needed the tarnish polished off," said Eric, at 31 the younger of the Berley boys; his brother Ryan is 35.

What an understatement! The silver trophy had been all but trashed by the end of the Shane dynasty, the upstairs chocolate kitchen in disarray, the antique machinery limping or broken, the era of first-floor hand-dipping by Carmella Lauro, who died in her 80s, a distant memory.

The Berleys, who also own the vintage Franklin Fountain ice cream parlor just up the block at Market and Letitia Streets, did not stop at rubbing off tarnish. They went on a near-obsessive crusade, researching historical records, repointing crumbling brickwork, exposing and sanding buried floors of honeyed pine and bird's-eye maple.

They repainted the original 1911 woodwork in a shade of colonial blue ("Long Gallery Blue," to be precise, borrowed from the second-floor palette at Independence Hall; "not the darker blue on the staircase," said Ryan.)

Then a shade called Franklin white, from an old home in Society Hill, was applied to the raised carvings on the trim, giving it the aspect of Wedgwood china.

The graphics alone have been painstakingly redesigned, the company's logo on the boxed assortments (now known as Shane Confectionary) essentially an enlargement of a century-old Shane hand stamp that was first made by the now-defunct Quint Stamp Co. in Old City.

Even the antique candy-making equipment has been preserved and refurbished - the dimpled copper Vulcan kettles shined up, the spattered "fire mixer" that stirs chocolate cleaned and overhauled (Boardwalk-style fudge will be its summer job); the thick-roped, hand-crank freight elevator retooled; the 200-pound-batch fondant and buttercream beater reconditioned; the olive-oil slicked clear-toy molds preserved, and a Thomas Mills-manufactured marble dipping table unbolted, painstakingly cleaned, and reassembled.

It is the very table - a bath for warming melted chocolate at its center - where Carmella Lauro once presided, dipping nut clusters one by one in one of Old City's most affecting floor shows.

As if in homage last week, workers Heidi Schriver and Catherine Winn were dipping caramel centers at the same table, sprinkling each with flakes of sea salt, cooling them on parchment - stocking empty shelves that promised another Christmas would not be missed.

And certainly not another Valentine's Day.

Or Easter.


Contact Rick Nichols at richard.nichols@comcast.net.

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