None of this was ever in a plan,” Janie DeJaeghere says, as she gestures toward barrels and bins of what once was called “penny candy” — saltwater taffy, Mary Janes, Bit-O-Honey, Fizzies, rock candy, and Clark bars — plus her own freshly made cake pops, cupcakes, and candied apples in a glass-front case in her colorful confectionery shop.
Before opening the sweets emporium in September 2010, DeJaeghere was immersed in a 14-year career in customer service at Comerica Bank. Her foray into entrepreneurship consisted of weekend trips to farmers markets and the Gibraltar Trade Center, where she sold nostalgic candy and her handcrafted ribbon-bedecked candy bouquets tucked into old-fashioned soda glasses.
Candy — and nostalgia — was just a hobby at that point, but she realized more and more how much she enjoyed bringing memory-sparking products to people who feel the same way she does. Why not find a location and open her own shop? After looking in Berkley, which she initially thought might be the ideal spot, she and her husband, John, stumbled upon a storefront in Ferndale that was just right. The address even gave them a name: Woodward Avenue Candy Shop.
The space had been “a drag-queen resale shop,” she says. Now it looks like a quaint cottage, with pastel walls lettered with such sayings as, “Making life sweeter one day at a time” and “You can have it all but not all at once.” The interior also features a vintage Frigidaire that holds classic soft drinks (“only in glass bottles”) and bin after bin of candy with origins dating to the 1930s and ’40s.
“If it’s still made, we’ll get it in,” she says of the candies, noting that about 100 American companies still produce the retro confections. What she’s really selling, of course, are the childhood memories these treats evoke. Adults seem to appreciate the shop even more than children.
Customers pick up miniature “bushel” baskets and fill them with the treats. The baskets are then weighed, at a rate of $10 a pound — and you can get a lot of “penny” candy for $10. The couple offer discounts to military men and women, police, and firefighters as a gesture to their Sept. 11 opening date.
Before anyone buys, however, customers are invited to try free samples so they won’t be disappointed. “From the first time I shopped there,” says frequent customer Liz Trombley, “it was like visiting with family — the relatives you really like. Janie and John are both always so welcoming, happy to answer questions, and offer up samples of any candy you might want to purchase … shopping there is an all-around pleasant experience.”
In addition to the shop, DeJaeghere puts together candy buffets for sweet-16 parties, showers, and wedding receptions: tables laden with carefully arranged confections, each presentation a custom design fitting the style of the client. She often uses vintage china cake plates and glass pieces from her own collection, some of which is for sale in the back room at the shop. “I’ve always had a love for things that had life put into them,” she says. “I love the fact that people used these things.”
It’s not a stretch to describe DeJaeghere as the quintessential kid in a candy shop. When she says, “I see the world through cotton-candy clouds,” it really has the ring of truth.