IN YOUR KID’S dream world, there’s an apothecary that looks like this. The candy section of the Field House in Ballard is the epitome of that winsome Americana style that’s inspiring awe in young ones, and nostalgia in adults, around Seattle. (The same mom-and-pop sody-pop aesthetic is on display at restaurants like Oddfellows and Local 360.) Amid flannel coats, vintage Zippo lighters, and camping lanterns are rows of glass jars stocked with coconut- and Dr. Pepper–flavored jelly beans shiny as piano keys, licorice pastels commingling with nonpareil berries and cherry dots, and leaning stacks of jagged-edged chocolate bark. There are Zotz sour pods and wax-paper-wrapped Jonboy Caramels, Ring Pops, Pop Rocks, and chocolate-covered gummy bears. Faced with all that memory-invoking sweet stuff, it’s only natural to regress a little, back to a time when satisfaction could be achieved with a single scratch of the sugar itch. Chew through a bag and you may feel the need to brush your teeth, but there’s something about the mere sight of penny candy that’s just…happy.
Owner Nicole Miller (nearby men’s clothing shop Blackbird is hers as well) started selling sweets in 2009—a reaction to a stormy economic forecast. Candy, she figured, was “something cheap that would keep Ballard customers engaged in the retail community.”
Smart move, Miller. As it turns out, tough times create new markets for small edible luxuries like candy, and not just because there’s less money floating around.
“It’s about memory,” says professor Ilene Bernstein, a developmental psychologist at the University of Washington. “People learn to associate food with things that happen. If something bad happens and it’s associated with a food, we can have a lifelong aversion.” On the flip side, comfort foods like candy “represent safety and good things happening.” The fact that sugar triggers endorphins only reinforces the positive association.
For her part, Miller likes supporting her sweet suppliers—the mainstays like Jelly Belly, in business since 1869, as well as organically minded start-ups like Ballard-based Jonboy. “We sold M&Ms when we opened,” recalled the shopkeeper. “That was no fun.” The Field House, 5465 Leary Ave NW, Ballard, 206-297-6093; helloblackbird.blogspot.com