Walk inside Five and Dime Candy Store in Lancaster, Calif., and it feels like stepping back in time. Giant glass jars of candy line the floor-to-ceiling mahogany shelves. A lollipop tree and a mock vintage soda machine decorate the front of the store. Barrels brimming with obscure flavors of saltwater taffy invite customers to a back room.
A young woman fills a paper bag with chocolate-covered gummy bears, sour belts, and Lego hard candies. Her friend grabs saltwater taffies from the back and helps herself to the dozens of chocolates and hard candies mounted in clear boxes on the wall. As they leave with their $5 worth of sweets, one exclaims: "Whoever planned to have this store had a great idea."
While the candy store seems to defy time, it actually opened just two years ago in the midst of difficult economic times in Lancaster and the nation. Five and Dime is just part of the city's revitalization project: In total, more than 40 new restaurants and stores have opened on Lancaster Boulevard, bringing in new life and energy to the city of 157,000 on the northern outskirts of Los Angeles County.
Even though the city was suffering from the recession with an 18 percent unemployment rate, Vance and Vikki Mendes decided to open Five and Dime in August 2010 at the suggestion of a boulevard developer. Vance designed the shop himself, gathering inspiration from old-time candy shops the couple saw online.
Starting a store from scratch isn't easy. According to local and county planning departments, it takes about six months to process all permits, inspections, and paperwork needed to approve a new store. And for a small store like Five and Dime, owners must put up $5,000 - $10,000. Larger stores cost upwards of $500,000 and may take more than a year for all the inspections and permits.
"We had a lot of people who knew what they were doing who helped us," said Manager Kacy Cribbs, pointing to developer Scott Ehrlich, who first came up with the idea.
Despite initial fears that novelty shops have become irrelevant in a down economy, the Mendeses found that business quickly picked up as the residents came to visit the newly renovated boulevard. "It's been a great experience," said Vikki, who formerly owned a contracting company with Vance. "It's just been successful."
So much so that the Mendeses are now planning a second store at the Westfield Valencia Town Center. Vikki is excited to see what will happen next: "I think it only gets better from here," she said.
But other owners on Lancaster Boulevard have had a more difficult time.
Co-owner Cathy Wade of children's clothing boutique Simply Spoiled next door moved her two-year-old shop to the boulevard soon after renovations finished, but the store did not turn a profit until last year. "We're not ever going to make a lot of money, but it's been fun," she said.
She is now considering selling the shop to spend more time with her family.
"There's a lot that goes into [running a shop]," Wade said, pointing to her responsibilities stocking, operating, and managing the store.
Christina Dierkson, owner of newly opened corner cafe Eat Up, admitted that business could be better. She blames the difficulties on the economic downturn, but believe that "when the economy picks up again, I can do really well. If you build it, they will come - you just have to be patient."
Every Thursday night the boulevard fills with people visiting the local farmer's market. With the road closed, customers wander through stands of fresh vegetables and local goods, often dropping by the stores lining Lancaster Boulevard.
Five and Dime's Cribb said the store is so busy then that "you can't walk in here usually. If you're in here, good luck getting out."
Some of the regular customers come in for the nostalgia of the candies they grew up with - Astro Pops, gum cigarettes, and saltwater taffy. Cribbs said many of the older customers will come in and tell stories of what the candies mean to them.
Of course, the store appeals most to toddlers in strollers and children with an insatiable appetite for sugar. Cribbs hopes the store creates memories for this new generation: "Some kids have never been to a candy store before."