Explore Your Freedom in a Unique Shopping Adventure
Oh, Edwards-Freeman Nut Company. You had me at ZotZ.
Edwards-Freeman is a retro candyland with a 100-year history. And ZotZ is a 1968 fizzy candy (think Pop Rocks - also in stock at Edwards-Freeman - inside a candy shell) that I thought had gone extinct decades ago.
But there, nestled in a colorful box, were strips of them, inviting me to relive a pleasure of the past.
That kind of nostalgia is one of the biggest draws to a visit to Edwards-Freeman. If you recall neighborhood candy stores, the Hector Street corner in Conshohocken will transport you immediately after crossing the threshold.
The building was once a cigar factory, but at present, the only cigars onsite are festive ones of either chocolate or chewing gum, acclaiming: "It's a Boy!" and "It's a Girl!"
There are root-beer barrels here; in fact, barrels of them. Licorice comes in traditional red and black but fans can also indulge in apple, chocolate, grape and dozens of other flavors, as well as a variety of shapes. Jawbreakers here will truly give your teeth a workout; the largest size is somewhere between a golf ball and a tennis ball. A rainbow of fruity lollipops begs to be licked, and if your tongue craves something unusual, try the bacon one. Adventurous sweet-aholics can brave a package of chocolate-covered crickets.
An old-fashioned candy counter takes up the front part of the store; it's a retail island that not only hosts the register and the helpful staff but also the chance to sample some of the tasty delights. A tray holds open jars of the flavored nut-butters that are made onsite, and from each one juts a plastic knife to encourage sampling. Who can resist? Options include traditional peanut butters (smooth and chunky), as well as butters made from cashew, almond and hazelnut. From there, things get a little exotic: chocolate peanut, cappuccino peanut and chocolate chip peanut.
The lure of the chocolate peanut is too strong to resist. I take a schmear from a knife and transfer it to my finger for a lip-smacking taste. The silky cocoa flavor balances perfectly with the salty-crunchy peanuts, and it's as if I'm eating Reece's Peanut Butter Cup that has been ground up.
I decide right then and there that a jar is coming home with me.
The challenge in this visit will be leaving without an entire bagful of goodies. Walking the aisles and viewing the extensive array of rare delights has my sweet tooth humming:
- Crackerjack in a box (not a pouch). And yes, a prize is still part of the treat
- A case of Coca Cola in 8-ounce glass (!) bottles
- Candy peanuts with peanut-butter filling
- Pez in a variety of dispensers that includes Lord of the Rings (with Hobbit-sizes for Bilbo and company), Star Wars and SpongeBob
- Gummy everything: worms, bears, Angry Birds, jet fighters
- Wide ribbons of shoebutton candy, which, to my recollection, meant eating both the colorful dots and the paper on which they sit
- Candy cigarettes. My accompanying VFTCB photographer, Joe Tacynec, happily recognizes the boxes as "...the same packages they were in when I was nine!"
- And one of my particular weakness: circus peanuts. These nubby orange beauties seem to divide candy aficionados into either love-them or despise-them categories. I'm clearly in the love-them camp.
The store also sells dried fruits, rolled oats, teas, coffees, popcorn (habañero flavor anyone?), and flavored extracts like peppermint and vanilla.
Overseeing this sugar surge is Mike Shields, manager. "I love watching people come in and just look around," he says. "I hear all day long: ‘I remember this!' and ‘I remember that!' People are amazed that some of these things are still around. It speaks to their childhoods."
Finding them and offering them for sale is the task of owner Rob Nelson. "Rob travels across the country to various candy shows in New York, Atlantic City, Chicago.... That's where he buys our merchandise," Shields answers, in describing the source of the extensive and unusual stock.
Shields is also in charge of nut-butter production. Using a grinder that has seen 150 years of service, he routinely sends a hopper full of nuts through the process that turns them into salty spreadable sumptuousness.
"This is really a great place to work," Shields says, citing his 20-year history with Edwards-Freeman. "It's very busy at Christmas and Easter. We also get tour buses of visiting senior groups. When tours come in, I dress up as the Peanut Vendor and show how we make our nut-butters."
He continues: "But there are regulars who come in for their favorites. It's neat to see multiple generations in the store, grandparents who bring their grandchildren here for something they may have never experienced before."
Edwards-Freeman is open Monday to Friday, 9- 5, Saturday 9-4, Sunday 10-3. Holiday hours are longer. Tour requests are welcome.
The sugar-rush that can follow a visit to Edwards-Freeman might best be slept off at one of the fine accommodations listed on our website. And if your palette needs some protein to balance out the sweetness, let us suggest a USDA prime beef cut at Ruth's Chris Steakhouse.