2015-12-09 / Features

Margie Schmidt

Local-Express

Ninety years ago, in 1925, Margie Schmidt’s grandfather, a German immigrant, opened his shop at 94-15 Jamaica Avenue under the BMT “El” train in Woodhaven. Back then, and for several more decades, the avenue was lined with similar small businesses that sold ice cream, soda, candy, and were called either candy stores, luncheonettes or ice cream parlors. Woodhavenites would enjoy the fare usually after taking in a movie at The Haven, Roosevelt, or Willard Theaters.

Margie’s father, Frank, took over the shop, then her mother, all the while maintaining the original quality of the ice cream and candy recipes Grandpa Schmidt perfected using his original equipment, to bring old-world German chocolate together with the finest ingredients, by hand. Now, decades after Margie took over the shop, she continues the family traditions begun almost a century ago, using the same timetested formulas and quality ingredients. She even uses the original copper kettle, replated a few times, to work on her confections spread out over the same marble tables, using vintage wooden storage racks, her grandpa’s long-handled ladles, and even the old candy puller on the basement wall, which helps her craft homemade candy canes that taste so much better than the commercial variety.

The J train still rumbles above the shop, running from Jamaica to Downtown Manhattan. Today, going through Schmidt’s Candy Shop’s doors brings you back to those simpler, less hectic times of trolley cars running the long-gone rails of Jamaica Avenue’s cobblestoned street, and shopping in an old-school store that offers homemade goodness and personal, friendly service.

QG: What challenges do you face as a small mom and pop candy business vs. large stores that sell mass-produced candy, but not as their primary product?

MS: I’ve been helping my father in his candy business in this very same location since I was eight years old and could add and subtract, so I truly learned at my father’s knee. All the candy is made here, 90 years after my grandfather started the business in 1925, using the same molds, the same copper pots, the same big ladles, the same marble countertop. I hand-dip, hand-roll, handpull, making each piece by hand, even the caramel and marshmallow. I am “Chief Cook and Bottle Washer,” and even do my own shipping at the post office from some orders I get online or in the shop to fulfill gift orders.

At this time of year, and before all the big holidays, there’s a real surge in business. I don’t even have time to change the prices on the shelves! I’m still selling candy using last year’s prices. I go to Trader Joe’s and even buy the milk and butter basic ingredients myself.

QG: How would you describe your shop’s décor?

MS: It’s like walking into a Jamaica Avenue shop ca. 1925. Our tile floors still are unchanged: small, white and black octagon-shaped tiles and blue border. Our wood and glass showcases on each side of the shop, plus cabinets, come from some candy stores and ice-cream parlors of yesteryear that lined our avenue: Meyer’s, Wilken’s, for those out there old enough to remember. We had a fire in the 1980s that unfortunately took away our original tin ceiling, but that’s about all that’s missing. And the wonderful aroma of candy and chocolates when you enter speaks for itself – real nostalgia in 2015.

QG: As a small business owner of a specialty business, how many hours do you spend at the store, especially during the holiday season?

MS: Well, the shop is open from Tuesday through Saturday, 11 am – 6 pm, closed Sunday and Monday. I’m here 18 hours a day, though, from more than a month before Halloween through Valentine’s Day, then again for St. Pat’s, Easter, Mother’s and Father’s Days, June graduations, and weddings. I usually have some help in the store to sell and wrap up the boxes of candy over the holidays, who enable me to be downstairs making candy, or to take a break. Even in July and August, when my shop is closed for the summer, I’m thinking ahead to the rest of my very busy year. My family understands, and they help out, so it still is very much a family business.

QG: What are your best-selling sweets for this holiday season?

MS: For Christmastime, the Sugarplum Fairy in me comes out. We always feature chocolate wreaths, sprinkled with nonpareils; sprinkled chocolate snowcaps; chocolate cherries; butter crunch; nut and fruit candies; and the candy no one makes by hand anymore, anywhere, that distinctive old-fashioned ribbon candy; peppermints; chocolates filled with homemade raspberry jelly, caramel, marshmallow, crèmes; old-time hard candies; chocolate Santas, snowmen, Christmas trees; handpulled candy canes; gum drops; licorice, fudge, turtles – all good for stocking stuffers. Or buy by the pound, as “tips” for the teachers, mailmen, delivery drivers, caregivers to the elderly, even favorite doctors— that people deal with for important services. I even make delicious sugar-free candy for people coping with diabetes or just watching their calories.

QG: Do you offer shipping of candy gifts for the holidays?

MS: I take care of orders myself, from our website. Years ago, we used to offer fancy mugs, glass plates and ceramics for our gifts in the shop. Now, the customers don’t want that – they’re more interested in the candy itself. So I pick up decorative containers from the dollar stores and they make the base of our gift platters. Otherwise, we just use our candy boxes with the gold Schmidt’s labels, and we do gift wrapping and ribbon, upon request. I’d love to get and fill requests like corporate gifts of $50 or up – “thank yous” to customers, employees, and suppliers. But, I would need some lead time for that, of course.

QG: What are some of your favorite things about Woodhaven?

MS: Woodhaven is still being promoted as a “haven in the city.” There’s even a sign like that on the median of Woodhaven Boulevard and Jamaica Avenue. I see that every day in the store in my personal conversations with customers, and by the way we long-time neighborhood merchants help one another out. I have great neighboring merchants on Jamaica Avenue in the hardware store, the deli, the diner and the liquor store. We all support the annual Christmas lights across the Avenue, that go for 25 blocks or so from Forest Parkway to 101st Street, a small-town tradition for decades here in Woodhaven. We even have holiday music and Christmas carols playing from speakers under the el train, to promote holiday good will. And my store highlights for passersby a sense of local shopkeepers from the old days offering handcrafted, quality merchandise that is increasingly rare to find.

This column was originated in July 2013 by Nicollette Barsamian.

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