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Tucson candy store offers customers a taste of nostalgia

Shop's stockpile overcoming supply chain pain
Purple Penguin Candy Emporium
Posted at 4:06 PM, Oct 31, 2021
and last updated 2021-10-31 19:06:08-04

TUCSON, Ariz. (KGUN) — As Tucsonans stock up on candy this Halloween, one store is offering more than just your average ‘Fun Size’ chocolate bars.

Walking into Purple Penguin Candy Emporium near Reid Park Zoo feels like walking into a time machine. The store has working phones from as early as the 1920s, plus a working telegraph along with other antiques.

But there’s also history in the store’s enormous candy collection, which includes everything from Abba-Zabas to Zotz, as well as specialty candy sodas.

Regional specialties from all corners of the country are inside the store, some dating back to the early 1900s or before.

“I can identify customers coming in by the candies they get,” said owner Dino Volpi, who runs the store by himself. “If they come up front, they have a Mountain Bar, we know they’re from the state of Washington… They come in for a Peanut Pattie, you’re from Texas.”

After a career owning restaurants and selling to them, Volpi knows how to find these regional gems. He currently works with about 20 different suppliers.

Stocking the shelves has become more of a challenge this year, however. The pandemic’s supply chain chokeholds have delayed some shipments for months. Other candies and sodas have seemingly disappeared.

But Volpi also sees that as an opportunity.

“Basically, we’re out of regular items, and then we have to fill in the gaps with something that we may have not had before,” he explained. “And that works really good, because we got constant variety coming in to the store.”

Customer Anthony Galvez was able find exactly what his dad was asking for.

“He knows exactly what he wants, he’s very particular,” Galvez said. “He wanted some licorice. He said ‘They had the best licorice candy there [at Purple Penguin].’ This was the only place that would probably cater to that.”

Volpi says he always lets people take samples, especially of the store’s trove of saltwater taffy options, so they can feel confident when they buy something.

Volpi says he also loves re-creating childhood memories for adults and introducing children to new candy, and that he wants every child to leave with free candy.

“I can tell you what, if you retire, this is the best thing you can do for retirement,” Volpi said. “Where can you go to work every day, almost every day, and you customers leave, and they either have a smile on their face, or you got a child that you just made happy? And that’s the greatest thing in the world to have that happen.”