Sweet Indulgences in Duquesne

When I began this blog, I vowed that I would not turn it into just another nostalgia blog that talks about the “good ol’ days.” I wanted to be sure that whatever I wrote about, reflected something about my life in Duquesne and had specific ties to the city. I hope I haven’t disappointed so far, but in the future, if I veer off course, be sure to let me know!

With all of that said, I was reminded by Eileen Phillips about buying candy at Algeri’s on Pennsylvania Ave. My dad would occasionally need to get milk, bread of some other small order and would drive up to Algeri’s since it was relatively close to our home. Those trips would always include allowing me to make a selection from their wonderful penny candy counter. Where as most kids had a tough time in deciding which candies they wanted, I had honed my “favorites” list to a select few. I knew exactly where they were placed in the case, so filling up that little brown sack they used for candy was never a problem.

As far as I know, thoughts of hyper-activity from too much candy never seemed to cross my folks mind. “Goodies” were a staple in any self-respecting hunky’s diet! This should come as no surprise to anyone. After all, we’re the ones who create the world’s largest cookie display at weddings and then try to consume them all in one night!

I though about other places around Duquesne where I’d buy penny candy. When you think about it, there were quite a few as I recall. Just one block up from our Thomas Street home was Puski’s, at the corner of Texas Ave. and Mellon Street. We didn’t like to go to Puski’s unless absolutely necessary. The truth be told, he often charged 2¢ for some of the typically priced at a penny. To this day, I don’t know if the higher prices were to keeps too many kids away, or just because he wanted to make more money.

I think the place where I first remember being taken for candy was across from my Grandfather’s house on Hamilton Avenue. It was a small store with very little in it. The candy counter was a big glass case to the right and it was lined with jars of treats. He lived at 307 Hamilton, and the store was in that same block. In later years, my Aunt Mary said that it was a big “numbers joint.” To this day, I am still not quite clear about what that meant, but it did sound very Al Capone”ish!” What I DO recall is that the person behind the counter was very friendly and knew my mom and I and us by name. Of all of the items there, I used to love the pretzel rods that were in a jar on the top if the counter the most. He would always give me one as a bonus whenever my mom took me in.

I guess you could say that I had a strange set of taste buds. One of my favorite candies was a small grayish little candy called a “Ben Hur.” They were anise flavored and I was one of the few in our family that liked anise flavoring and these candies. This, of course, assured that my brother and cousins wouldn’t be asking for a piece of my candy. Turn about was fair play however. Whenever they went to the candy store, they would buy Mary Janes, a candy I despised, and never had to worry about me asking for a piece. To this day, I cannot stand the taste or smell of peanut butter. I know, its un-American.

When I think about it, there were a lot of stores that were indulging people’s sweet tooth as I was growing up. The Hilltop Dairy at the top of Kennedy Ave., the little shop on the corner of 4th and Kennedy across from the High School, the candy counter at G.C.Murphy’s on 1st Street, to name just a few. The set-ups in each of these stores was similar and the assortment of candy was practically identical. There were pretzel rods, Mary Janes, Smarties, candy necklaces, candy cigarettes, Bazooka bubble gum, dot candy, shoestring licorice, and  gumdrops to name just a few. There are a number of sites on the internet where you can buy some of the candy we used to enjoy back then. I have tried a few of these and although the taste was similar, something was just not the same. I think the little brown bag was missing as well as the excitement of standing in front of that case, with your nose pressed against the glass, just trying to decide how to spend that nickel that was burning a hole in your pocket. No matter what you decided on, it certainly ended up being a treat!

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16 Responses to Sweet Indulgences in Duquesne

  1. Michelle Richter says:

    When I found out they were going to stop making Ben Hur candy or Sen Sen (I knew them by both names) I bought four pounds. This was sometime in the 1990’s. I still have a very few saved in a plastic container that I take one or two from every year or so just to remember the exact flavour. I give some to my dad who loved them. I will be very sad when they are all gone.

    • cheryl says:

      IF IF IF IF IF……anyone can find BEN HUR candy…PLEASE POST IT on FB TWITTER >>EVERYWHERE!! the company went out of business and took the recipe with them. It was my all time favorite candy. Had I known I would have bought by the 100’s of pounds. Who knew…cant imagine why they didnt pass on the recipe and with so many fans…the gray not purple…When i think back on how many people mooched it from me at work …..had I known I would have hid what I had.

  2. betty hughes says:

    Im looking for sin sins not the little ones, They look like the Ben Hur candy are they the same? And can I buy them anywhere?

  3. Jean says:

    Do you still make the old-fashioned sim sims? They were light gray and melted in your mouth. Where can I buy them?

  4. Minyonn says:

    Judging from the picture of the candy you called BenHur, I remember these old fashion breath mints as well. I’m from Michigan and they were sold at The Morrow Nut House downtown by the pound. They were called Sen-Sen. Do you know where we might find some today? I’ve been looking for years.

    • Jim says:

      There is a local company where you might be able to find those wonderful candies. The specialize in hard to find treats from yesteryear. Check them out at: http://www.candyfavorites.com.

    • K-Sue says:

      They banned one of the ingredients and it can’t be made in the US any more. don’t recall what that ingredient was.

      • joy says:

        Do you think that’s why the recipe isn’t available? I definitely have been wanting to make these candies. Where did you hear about the banned ingredient? Someone said the cigar Kuba Kuba smelled like the candy did.

  5. Bob Chermonitz says:

    In Duquesne Place it was “Mary’s” on Overland Ave. for penny candy and Mission pop. God, what a nickel could buy!

  6. Evie Stoyanoff says:

    I remember my Dedo (grandfather) giving me two nickles to go to the candy store on Hamilton, I was 8 to 10 years old. One for the #’s he wanted to play and one for me! and talk about 6 degrees of separation! I’m a mother of a 17 year old daughter who is a life guard at an apartment complex pool (in WM, you can see it from 51, up high on the hill) And who’s there, but the woman who ran the candy store! She remember me!, I wish I could remember her name! Lesko I think! and anyway, those days she wouldn’t have had a first name, other than MRS! Anyway my daughter is 34 now and a mother herself!

    And what about Nickolich’s, on Hamilton down by the “streetcar” stop. I remember my childhood friend Nadine Lancos (his grand-daughter) sneaking behind the counter and grabbing all the candy we could! Good Stuff!

  7. Tom Lane says:

    Talk about everyone knowing you. I remember one winter day on the way home from school and I had to take a pee. So I went behind a house along Kennedy in some bushes. This was a good 10 blocks from my house, and by the time I got home, my mother was hot. She yelled at me for going to the bathroom behind so and so’s house. The woman had called and she knew before I got home! Man what a small town…loved it

  8. cathy sturm says:

    Hi …the candy store you mention on Kennedy & 4th was Sidney’s but it was 5th & Kennedy 2 blocks up from the high school … the kids would stop in for a quick purchase before the first bell …of course the candy was contraband in school back then, not like today’s schools who have candy & pop machines in the halls …I think it had a turquois colored entryway …Mr Zenti’s shoemaker shop was across on the other corner and St Hedwig’s the Polish church was across Kennedy

    • Paula (Manns) Niedoba says:

      We lived on Auriles Street, a few houses down from Manns Grocery Store. (Second cousins once removed or something) I remember you could purchase 6 candy bars for a quarter. Mom worked there and I loved to pop in after school because everyone knew your name, like Cheers. Right before Easter they would grind horseradish root and put it in plastic buckets bringing tears to the eyes of anyone withing a 100 yd perimeter!

      • cathy sturm says:

        You’re right everyone in the whole town knew who you were …and all us kids knew where everyone lived except for the Duquesne place kids

    • Michael Bashista says:

      Yep that was Sidney’s [Markowitz] on 5th and Kennedy. I knew it because their son Charles was in school with me [class of 62].
      My folks also owned a small confectioner store on Aurilles & Smoker Alley between Mann’s and Henry’s [Aurilles and Priscilla]. I remember growing up & ‘working’ in the store. Part of my pay was a piece or 2 of 1ct or 2ct candy. My favorite days were when all the new comic books came in. I would grab a bunch, get a grape or orange soda [Coke was too hard for small kids] & a piece of candy [red licorice string a favorite] and go hide on the ice cream case at the back of the store and be silent for hours. I think the most expensive piece of candy we sold was a 5ct bar that was a small block of solid chocolate with almonds in it. Of course my most fun was trying to sneak an extra piece of candy out of the case while my Mom was watching the store – only to find out years later that I never really was that good at sneaking the piece out of the case. Ah memories of youth.

  9. Tom Lane says:

    Boy, do I relate to this. My favorite was Umholz’s on Kennedy. Old Ben Umholtz was such a gentle and funny guy. He would always find a way to play a trick on you while you were making up your mind on the penny candy. Loved the pretzel sticks and a Dad’s rootbeer. And sitting on his radiator after a snow ball battle on the way home from school! The store was very small, about the size of a one car garage with the candy counter running along the left front side. My cousin “hoppy” and I would hang out there quite a bit. It was such a safe and secure place. It was a great way to grow up without fear… tom

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