Amy's Candy Bar, Chicago
Amy Hansen

Regional specialties, rare imported sweets, and one-of-a-kind housemade confections deliver a satisfying sugar rush—with a dash of nostalgia.

“We have a circus and sideshow mentality to the way we do business,” says Brandon Hodge, owner of the retro-inspired Big Top Candy Shop in Austin, TX. “When customers walk in they can have a few minutes where time stands still.”

The yellow and red tent-themed walls are crammed with items to surprise and delight: antique instruments, vintage circus posters, and, of course, overflowing selections of colorful (often nostalgic) candy. Lines for the old-fashioned sodas and Blue Bell ice cream served at the ’50s-style counter regularly snake out the door on weekends.

Beyond satisfying a sweet tooth, well-stocked candy stores like Big Top entice grown-ups with the possibility of rediscovering a forgotten childhood treat. On New York’s Lower East Side, for instance, Mitchell Cohen and his family pack in an overwhelming selection of nostalgic sweets. “Economy Candy has almost 2,000 different items to choose from and sells every candy and chocolate from your generation, your parents’ generation, and even your grandparents’ at the lowest prices around,” he states.

Such old-time shops that highlight regional candy-making traditions provide travelers with a taste of a destination—and the chance to pick up sure-to-please souvenirs. In Philadelphia, two brothers recently restored Shane Confectionary to its antebellum glory while continuing its longtime production of animal-shaped sugar sculptures and handmade buttercream chocolates.

At Old Port Candy Co. in Portland, ME, Anna Largay sells gummy lobsters and salt water taffy, though locals are partial to her homemade fudge; the rotating selection includes orange chocolate swirl and brown sugar sea-salt caramel. “I love my little candy store, and I think a lot of other people do,” she says. “We’re just having a ton of fun.”

Join the party at these candy shops across America.

Amy’s Candy Bar, Chicago

Opening her own sweet shop in 2011 fulfilled a dream for Amy Hansen, who drew on her training at the French Pastry School and a background in marketing and accounting. The glass jars neatly lining the shelves are full of rare and imported candy, licorice, and gummies. But regulars turn up for the handmade turtles and sea-salt caramels. Her signature OMG Candy Bar—with layers of sea-salt caramel, crunchy hazelnut praline, and creamy chocolate ganache—is a heady sugar rush. Across town from the Lincoln Square shop, Amy’s treats are also available through spring 2015 at a pop-shop in Hyde Park.

Big Top Candy Shop, Austin, TX

“People are barraged with colors, sights, and sounds when they walk in, just like the circus. We pride ourselves on that,” says owner Brandon Hodge. Texans with a sweet tooth have been flocking to his whimsical shop on South Congress Avenue since 2007. Big Top specializes in handmade chocolate-covered bacon dipped in dark chocolate and sprinkled with sea salt. For traditionalists, it also offers a soda and ice cream counter, a 16-foot wall of nostalgic candy, a 12-foot wall of concession-style candy, and more than 40 flavors of taffy.

Candy Babel, Portland, OR

The vintage tins and baskets at Candy Babel are loaded with organic, kosher, vegan, gluten-free, or non-GMO treats imported from around the world (chewy British foam candy and caramel robin’s eggs, for example). “Living in Denmark, I discovered the joy of chemical-free candy and decided to share it with the Pacific Northwest,” explains owner Armani Greer. What makes it really special, though, are her 300-plus flavors of organic cotton candy—including glow-in-the-dark varieties made using LED technology—and available only in summer.

The Candy Store, San Francisco

Growing up in a candy-free household did much to encourage owner Diane Campbell’s sweets obsession. Today, she and her husband, Brian, stock an exacting selection of hard-to-find confections at their stylish Russian Hill showroom. “We opened with the intention of creating a carefully curated shop, where candy would be given the same respect accorded to fine wine and cheese,” she explains. On display are glass jars filled with salted caramel balls, matcha balls, and other colorful bulk items that contrast with the light walls. If those don’t suit, you can choose from specialty candy bars like San Francisco’s own Dandelion Chocolate and Japanese green tea Kit Kats.

Economy Candy, New York City

The Cohen family has been satisfying the Lower East Side’s sugar cravings since 1937. “From Abba-Zaba to Zagnut, if we don’t have it, they probably don’t make it anymore. And if they do, we’ll find it for you,” states third-generation owner Mitchell Cohen. Indeed, the aisles of this neighborhood favorite are jam-packed from floor to ceiling with every candy imaginable. It also carries fresh dried fruits, nuts, halvah, and gourmet chocolates.

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