Jerry Cohen was born on Ludlow Street and grew up in the Economy Candy store as he often followed his dad, the original owner of the store, to work everyday. The store first opened in 1937 under a different name, originally selling shoes, but during the war the candy that the store also offered outsold the. The store is now a staple and landmark of the Lower East Side, attracting both tourists and locals seeking nostalgia. It carries an abundance of vintage candy like Jaw Breakers, Abba Zaba, Bubble Gum Cigars and Chuckles, and current types, including Swedish Fish, Gummy Bears, M&M’s and a five-pound Hershey bar. Sugar free candy is also sold along with dried fruit, nuts and halvah. They provide candy for events and special days including weddings, bat mitzvahs, Mother’s Day and Valentine’s Day.
“I’m making people happy everyday selling candy,” Cohen said. “Someone once asked, ‘what do you specialize in?’ I said happiness – we leave people with a smile.”
How would you best describe the area?
It’s different here. The Lower East Side is less crowded; you don’t have people pushing into you. You can spend a day going to the restaurants, Streit’s Motzo Factory on Rivington, The Pickle Guys on Essex and Economy Candy and you would have a wonderful day. Before people would say, ‘why do you want to go to the Lower East Side?’ but many had no choice but to live there. Now it’s considered a hip neighborhood.
What was it like here when you were growing up?
When we were growing up people came down to Lower East Side for socks, clothes, candy and pickles. It was a bustling neighborhood on a Sunday. You’d hear the horns blowing on a Sunday morning when the families came down to shop. On Orchard Street was where you’d buy your clothes; you’d go down there for your leather coat, winder coat, underwear, socks. There was no other place to go and you’d bargain with them. That was the fun of it.
What is a favorite memory from the LES?
Going to the wholesale toy stores on Ludlow Street. They’d sell pocket trucks, matchbox cars, and I would just sit in the window and play with the toys. They all loved having me there. Also, being with my father at the store. The only time I’d be with him was when I went with him to work. I would wake up early and stay by the door so he could take me into work with him.