During the Great Depression, demand for shoe and hat repair at a shop on the corner of Rivington and Essex was low. Outside the store though, a small candy pushcart run by the same owners attracted customers craving sweets during the tumultuous era. By 1937, candy bars replaced repair tools in the corner shop now known as Economy Candy. The sweet shop’s name is inspired by the unexpected success of the candy pushcart outside the shoe and hat repair shop.
World War II veteran Morris — Moishe — Cohen and his brother-in-law took over the business after the war, and since then, the business has been family-run. Moishe Cohen used to sit outside of the shop, in all temperatures, selling candy, fruits, and nuts. Today, nobody stands outside of the shop to sell candy anymore, rather, customers hail from around the world to experience the candy store’s expansive inventory. Today, the shop has more than 2,000 candy items for sale, and on July 30, 2022, Economy Candy turns 85, making it the oldest candy shop in New York City.
This eclectic candy store has a legacy of being not only family-run but also couple-run. This tradition started with Moishe and Joan in 1937, then transferred to Jerry and Illene, and then to Mitchell Cohen and his wife Skye who now run the store. “Everyone was expected to work after school,” Mitchell Cohen told Untapped New York from behind the store’s counter. “This really is a true family business.” As he said this, a customer interrupted saying, “give my best to your folks.”
Mitchell took over the family business in 2013 from his parents Jerry and Ilene, and in 2017, his wife Skye left her job in advertising to join the Economy Candy team. Mitchell and Skye work in the store 5 to 7 days a week. The advantages of being an owner who works behind the counter are obvious to Mitchell: He enjoys hearing stories about his parents and his grandparents from generations of loyal customers that still shop at Economy Candy.
“Half of our business is locals; half our business is tourists,” Mitchell said. During the pandemic, the store was closed for 18 months, selling mostly mystery bags, care packages, and online orders to customers. Luckily, according to Mitchell, tourists have largely returned to shopping at Economy Candy.
Economy Candy is preparing to celebrate its 85th anniversary on June 30th, 2022 right in front of the shop. Several local brands, including Mikey Like’s Ice Cream, Jellio, CandyTopia, Colorfactory, Tony Chocoloney, and The Pickle Guys are donating everything from a barrel of pickles to an Economy Candy-inspired ice cream. These products will all commemorate Economy Candy’s grand achievement: 85 years of business. Simultaneously, the businesses want to appreciate the customers who kept the candy store afloat during the pandemic.
The store’s shelves are teeming with colors and flavors. Even as an adult, it is hard not to feel like a kid in the candy store as every section of the store demands attention, making it hard to know where to begin. Mitchell, though, starts at the candy by-decade section at the front right of the store. Here, customers can find candy from each decade between the 1950s and the 1990s. Mitchell suggests that these are great birthday gifts for people born between these decades. In the front left of the store, Mitchell showed Untapped New York the “Mega Toxic Waste Slime Licker,” a sour rolling candy, of which Economy Candy sold thousands during the pandemic because it went viral on TikTok.
As one travels towards the back of the store, candy options vary by section. The front of the store features primarily American candy and novelty items, including tootsie rolls and balloon animal kits. In the middle of the store, Economy Candy has about 100 different types of gummies, including 60 types of Haribo, imported directly from Germany. Towards the back of the store, candy from Japan, Israel, and Mexico sit across a color-sorted candy wall. Playing cards, jump ropes, gum with jokes on it, and placebo pills for various made-up conditions are also among the goods hidden between rows and rows of candy.
As Mitchell showed Untapped New York the various sections of the store, a woman, Maria, peered out to tell Mithcell that she had come all the way from Cuero, Texas, planning to buy lots of novelty candy for students at the school where she is a school nurse. She always puts out candy for the younger kids to incentivize them to wear their eyeglasses. If she sees them wearing their glasses for a whole week, she will reward them with candy. Now, an assortment of goodies from Economy Candy — a store that is almost 2500 miles away — will motivate these students to wear their eyeglasses.
Whether you head to the candy store to celebrate its anniversary or pass by its exterior on Untapped New York’s Secrets of the Lower East Side Tour and Tasting, Economy Candy’s ilustrious reputation is apparent. Stretching thousands of miles and nearly 100 years, Economy Candy’s legacy has touched thousands. As such, the store’s 85th-anniversary celebration will be grand in scale and splendor to honor an institution that values quality sweets and treats.
Secrets of the Lower East Side Tour & Tasting
Next, check out New York City’s oldest ice cream parlor, Eddie’s Sweet Shop!