There's a fine line between whimsy and wacky, and Robin Helfand is the tightrope walker behind Robin's Candy Store, which opened on Main Street in Great Barrington on June 21. She's taken the old White Knight Records space and renovated it so that it feels like a sweet shoppe with a pedigree. "You see those glass cabinets in the back?" she says. "I got them from Gatsby's [which just closed after decades on Railroad Street] who got them from another store in town so they've been in Great Barrington for 70 or 80 years." She unearthed the original worn floorboards and hung crystal chandeliers that lend the shop an Old World flavor. "When my daughter and I were in Italy, we noticed that all the candy shops have chandeliers," she says.
A resident of Lakeville, CT, who runs the Millerton Market and Millerton Card & Candy in nearby New York, Helfand sees herself as another one of the independent retailers who make Great Barrington a distinctive pedestrian-friendly town where chain stores are not welcome. She envisions giddy, sugar-fueled families strolling the sidewalks eating her Italian ice, gelato and ice cream, and carrying shopping bags of licorice, gummy bears and chocolate bars to eat at home.
Helfand contends that a candy store is the great equalizer, a place where anyone
can afford to treat themselves to a sweet pick-me-up. And she is trying to make sure that people of all food sensitivities will find something they like. She notes that vegans can have her Italian ices (made by Richie's
in Boston) and that she'll always have at least one no-sugar added ice cream (made with Splenda.) "We are trying to develop a gelatto with soy milk, too," she says.
Helfand has apparently never met a candy concept she didn't like, and the store has everything from a 9 pound Nestle Crunch bar ($98) to Cricket Lick-Its
(lollipops with a genuine cricket inside). There's a self-serve dispenser with 24 different colors of M&Ms and another one with just as many varieties of jelly beans. And there'a mind-boggling assortment of 50 types of licorice. "We sell more licorice than chocolate," says the number-crunching Helfand, who hopes to bring Robin's Candy Stores to other walking towns like Rhinebeck, Woodstock and Northampton.
The store is meant to be a fantasia for all ages, and everyone who walks in seems enamored of the toy train chugging along a track around the perimeter of the store and crossing a bridge overhead in the center of the shop. Helfand is enough of a realist to recognize that many parents and dentists will disapprove of her store, so she is handing out free toothbrushes with the message Keep That "SWEET TOOTH" Healthy!
Robin's Candy Store
288 Main Street, Great Barrington, MA; 413.528.8477
Sunday - Wednesday 11 AM - 9 PM
Thursday - Saturday 11 AM - 11 PM (subject to change)
A toy train chugs along a bridge that spans the center of the store