Business Monday: Vintage candy stores in Hilo, Waikōloa bring back childhood memories
October 2, 2023, 3:00 AM HST
Angela Kozlovich looked around the Sugar Coast Candy store in Waikōloa on Friday and stopped when she spied the Target packs of candy cigarettes. They triggered fond memories of trick-or-treating in California.
On one Halloween, Kozlovich, 9 years old at the time, was walking with her brother and a young boy dressed as a sheriff. As they walked from house to house, she remembers him saying: “Hold on, mom! I need to get my smokes!”
These nostalgic childhood trips down memory lane that customers take is one of the reasons Kozlovich’s mother-in-law, Janice Stanga, opened the first Sugar Coast Candy Store in 2005 on Kamehameha Avenue in Hilo after a trip to California.
Stanga and her husband entered Munchies in Sausalito and were blown away by all the old-time treats, including black jelly beans and peanut butter molasses taffy called Mary Jane.
Forty minutes later, after spending $130, Stanga looked at her husband and said: “I’m opening a candy store.”
The snappy decision mostly was due to the shop bringing back nostalgic memories of her childhood in Pomona, Calif. It wasn’t because she has a big sweet tooth: “I’m not even a candy eater.”
But she did know how to run a business, with the operation of a farm in Laupahoehoe that sells Hāmākua Mushrooms.
The Hilo candy store got off to a good start with the best free marketing.
“We had a couple of kids come and we were known overnight,” said Stanga, now 68.
In that store is where Kozlovich first saw the Target candy cigarettes that double as bubble gum. She sent her brother a pack.
On Fourth of July, Stanga opened the second location of the candy store at Kings’ Shops in Waikōloa.
When you walk into the black and white tiled store, the first thing you see is metal trash cans filled to the brim with different flavors of taffy. The 1,228-square-foot shop is filled with hundreds of different kinds of candies, chocolates, mints and vintage sodas.
Cheryl Beckley, marketing and local leasing manager for Kings’ Shops, said she wanted to bring Sugar Coast Candy into the shopping center because “you get an experience.”
“It’s the candy that brings you back to childhood,” Beckley said. “Everything from the looks to the smells, it’s also aesthetically pleasing. All the senses are there.”
Beckley gets nostalgic for the sodas, Dip Sticks and Jawbreakers.
“My kids like the Slime Lickers. It’s so disgusting,” Beckley said with a laugh. “It’s a ball with liquid in it, and it turns their lips blue or green.”
Beckley said Sugar Coast Candy has a great following and she anticipates local traffic coming to the shops specifically for Stanga’s treats.
Jake Joao started working at the Hilo vintage candy store 15 or 16 years ago and now is general manager at the Waikōloa location.
The shop features hundreds of candies from different companies, but said some products can be difficult to source and some, like Lemon Drops, can be unavailable for years.
The store typically buys in bulk, spending about $14,000 on different candies per month. The types of treats and their availability are constantly changing. A lot of it, Joao said, depends on the product’s demand.
Joao guesses the oldest candy in the store is licorice.
Joao loves the chocolates and sour candies.
Along the right wall of the shop are sour candies in colors of red, green, orange and yellow.
“Memory Lane” treats include candy cigarettes, bubble gum Big League Chew, Whirly Pops, rows of Pez and Pez dispensers, and Jawbreakers.
Homemade chocolates are in glass jars on the left side of the store. Most of the chocolates are sourced from Laymon Candy Company in California.
There’s everything from chocolate-covered fruit to chocolate-dipped Oreos to a variety of chocolate-covered coffee beans.
“The white chocolate caramel pecan clusters are to die for,” Stanga said.
The store carries some local products, including li hing mui lollipops from Maui and chocolate-covered coffee beans made on the Big Island.
Stanga said their mushroom farm is a lot more work than the candy stores, but it’s her retirement plan.
“There have been times where I thought I should’ve opened 20 candy stores,” Stanga said with a laugh.
But, the Stanga’s produce 5,500 pounds of mushrooms a week and ship Hāmākua Mushrooms throughout the state. Their product can be found in Costco. Stanga also sells to distributors who provide mushrooms to many of the high-end restaurants.
The farm employs 19 people while the candy stores employ seven.
Currently, Stanga said she is transitioning the farm over to her son over the next five years. However, she will keep the candy stores because of the joy.
She said: “Every person who walks into the store is so happy.”