It seemed like a typical Wednesday during school vacation week at Candy Castle. Children held shallow plastic trays, gazing out over the selection of sweets and treats lining the shelves of the Franklin Street store, as their mother stood by.
But this day was different. There wasn't any fudge in the display case next to the cash register and beneath that, only a few baseball cards remained in the glass case. Two men carried out on a dolly the store's fridge, just as one of the kids asked his mother if he could get some slush.
Candy Castle is pulling up its drawbridge and closing for good on Friday, Feb. 24, as owners Vita and Tom Bugden of Medford have decided to retire after owning the store since 1985.
The past two weeks have been the busiest the store has been in a while, Vita Bugden said, as word of the store's impending closure spread. On Wednesday, a steady stream of people came in and out of the store, and the phone rang every couple of minutes.
"Oh yes, I guess it’s all over Facebook," she said. "I’m hearing everybody's upset that the store is going. We had people that come from all over—Malden, Stoneham, Wakefield. People who come down New Hampshire, or they live up in Maine, but they’ll still come back. They just like the store. They moved out when they were young, so when they come back, this is where they always come. I guess there’s not too many stores like this anymore like this."
Time To Move On
Business had been admittedly slow lately and was slow last summer, which Bugden said was "unusual" and only added to her feelings that it was time to move on.
"I don’t really think I could deal with another summer—because it's been quiet, I’ve had times where I could sit," she said with a smile. "And I do get tired when I’m constantly moving around."
Her husband Tom, who deals with the purchasing side of the business, has a full-time job at a bank that he keeps mainly for benefits, Bugden said, after previously working as a personnel manager years ago.
"Then we bought this business because he was out of work for about a year. I said, 'Try a small business and see what happens,'" she said as a smile grew across her face. "It worked out well. Been here almost 27 years."
Bugden said her husband is also "getting tired now, too." The couple splits working weekends, with Vita at the store on Sundays and Tom at the store on Saturdays, resulting in both working six days a week.
"It’s rough now—as you get older you feel it," she said. "When you’re younger, you don’t mind it so much. And our kids are all grown, we have grandchildren now."
How are the grandchildren taking the closing of their grandparents' candy store?
"Oh, the grandchildren are all upset," Bugden said, laughing. "That’s how we were known by my oldest daughter’s kids—'Candy Store Nana and Papa.' Becuase their other grandparents, they live in Chelsea, are 'Water Tower Nana and Papa.' That’s how they distinguished us."
The grandchildren have grown up, though, with some in college and high school, Bugden said, but there are "two babies that we'll enjoy more" now that they'll have more free time. Bugden's plans for retirement include spending more time with her grandchildren.
"I’m going to enjoy them. I didn't get to see the others as much because we were always working," she said. "We have two in Virginia, so we try to get there once a year. And we'll try to spend a little more time."
Changes Over The Years
Candy Castle held a special place in Melrosians' hearts and others in the area for its unique selection of sweets and old-time candies that people remember from their childhood.
Bugden recalled watching the changes over the years, however, that started to chip away at uniqueness of the store, even as it still recalls penny candy stores of yesteryear.
The store used to stock fudge by Williams Chocolate, which had been in business for 80 years before closing and made the "best chocolates," Bugden said. A retired candy maker who used to work for Putnam Pantry and Russo's made candies just for Candy Castle before he passed away. Jack Smillie Candy was once the store's wholesaler before he went out of business; Smillie's son Brian rebooted the business, but doesn't have the same wide and deep selection as before, Bugden said.
"I used to get all kinds of things you couldn’t get anywhere, you know," she said. "That does change things, it changes the business. There are people who used to come just for certain things. Like, the Williams Chocolate, he made us chocolate easter baskets. Everything in the basket was chocolate, people used to come just for those. And when I couldn’t get them anymore, that hurt."
Still, children continued to come through the door of Candy Castle, eyes widening as they looked across the shelves of the narrow store and picked up their plastic tray, and adults kept coming back for the nostalgia.
"I will miss everybody, I’ll miss all the people and the kids," Bugden said.
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