A visit to Shane's candy shop remains a sweet Easter ritual

Ali Lucey, 12, of Albany, N.Y., who was visiting with her family for the NCAA hockey championships, peruses the display glass at Shane Confectionery.
Ali Lucey, 12, of Albany, N.Y., who was visiting with her family for the NCAA hockey championships, peruses the display glass at Shane Confectionery. (MICHAEL BRYANT / Staff Photographer)
Posted: April 15, 2014

PHILADELPHIA If mixed religious metaphors be heresy, so be it. For more than a century, Shane's candy shop at Second and Market Streets has been Mecca during the weeks leading up to Easter.

We are talking Easter candy here, brothers and sisters. A sacred rite of spring. Let us not question the holiness of hollow chocolate bunnies and the divine inspiration of coconut cremes.

Generations of indulgent parents and their bug-eyed kids have made the trip to the old factory building with the curved stained-glass windows, anticipating that first hallelujah whiff of warm sugar and chocolate.

When Julie Chelious was growing up in Drexel Hill, her mother used to take the trolley to Shane Confectionery on Palm Sunday and come home with a haul of chocolates to fill her Easter basket.

"Then my mom did it for my kids," said Chelious, now a lawyer in Haddonfield. Every year, the two girls would get a milk chocolate bunny and a white chocolate lamb.

When they left for college, the Cheliouses kept up the tradition by mail. This year will be hard in several ways, they said.

Not only because it is older daughter Monica's senior year at Duke University, so it will be the last Easter basket they send her, but because Shane's was temporarily out of lambs.

Monica is going to have to settle for two bunnies.

The Civil War-era building, once a wholesale candy factory, became a retail business in 1911, when Barry Shane's family took it over. In 2010, brothers Eric and Ryan Berley bought it from Shane. The retro masterminds behind the ice cream emporium Franklin Fountain a few doors down, they restored the original tin ceilings and elaborate friezes and laid down an oriental carpet runner for customers.

Anyone interested in the history of the place can turn to candy clerk Abigail Hermann.

But mostly, she said, they want to know about the candy.

Hermann, a 25-year-old aspiring alpaca farmer with an anthropology degree from Temple University, was dressed in the requisite old-timey uniform - puffy shoulder blouse, cotton apron, and striped skirt, with her hair bundled in a crocheted snood.

She was explaining that the Easter rush began weeks ago. "People were coming in before St. Patrick's Day looking for the buttercream eggs . . . " But there was no time for the whole story.

Customers Judith Kemp and Stuart Nichols had just walked in. The pair, long as pulled taffy and graceful as Happy Easter fondant script icing, had just competed (successfully) in a pro-am dance competition.

Before moving to Florida 15 years ago, Kemp said, she spent 25 years in South Jersey and was a regular at Shane's. Her teacher and dance partner, Nichols, however, is a native Southerner. No way, she said, could he leave Philadelphia without experiencing this place.

"If I had room," Kemp nodded toward the front of the shop, "that big white one would be going home with me."

Said bunny was one of two seven-pound colossal rabbits posted at either side of the entrance. Sitting stoically straight-spined, rising nearly two feet from cottontail to ear tip, they sell for $118. Both have been waiting at the altar for two weeks, hoping (or perhaps not) for someone to take them home and . . . well, you know.

The thought brought back uncomfortable memories, Nichols said. When he was a child in Huntsville, Ala., his parents would give him chocolate rabbits every Easter.

"I always had a hard time eating the bunny," he said. "I anthropomorphized it."

Using great restraint, he never poached his game, he said, although the temptation must have been fierce.

"I usually kept it for a couple of weeks," he said.

And then?

"I overcame my reticence."

Starting, of course, with the ears.


mdribben@phillynews.com

215-854-2590

@dribbenonphilly

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