The yet-to-be opened Powell’s Sweet Shoppe on College Avenue was abuzz with activity Thursday as its owners and new employees put away stacks and stacks of candy.
The store, which will open on Wednesday Nov. 17, stocks 6,000 to 7,000 different items at any one time, so getting it in order for its grand opening involves a lot of work.
But for the three owners – a husband and wife pair and her sister – all that work just brought on more smiles.
“This isn’t a job for me,” said Nabil Hissen, an engineer who also owns a Powell’s in Lafayette. “It’s fun. I work and then I come here for fun.”
Nabil, his wife Zeina, and her sister Shahrazad Junblat looked for a location for their candy store for a year and a half before finding a spot at 3206 College near Alcatraz. The building used to house Ovation, a women’s clothing store.
“It took us a long time to find the right location,” said Zeina Hissen. “We wanted to find the right neighborhood.”
“I am a Berkeley resident and I absolutely adore this neighborhood,” said Junblatt. “Kids can ride their bikes here, we are surrounded by schools, a residential area and families. It’s very accessible.”
With such a huge array of candy, the store is sure to be popular. Walking inside is like taking a trip in time. The walls are decorated with historic images, including a tin Coca Cola sign from 1939, a copy of the playing board of every edition of the Candyland game, a 1905 Fifth Avenue box, and nostalgic posters.
The center of the store features a Willie Wonka movie playing in continuous loop. It’s the original version starring Gene Wilder, not the remake with Johnny Depp.
And the candy! There is an entire section featuring Willie Wonka candies, a section called Memory Lane with old-fashioned candy, a novelty section featuring some wild treats, like cheddar cheese flavored larvae (real) and an authentic IV bag filled with candied “blood.” (Very popular this Halloween)
There is a British section and a section with different colored M&Ms. There is a card catalog filled with different types of gum. (With a sign above it reading “When I was your age, this was a search engine.) There is a section devoted to mints (peppermints and other wild flavors, including curry and ranch dressing) lots of lollipops, a section with chocolate bars from around the globe, and a gelato bar.
The first Powell’s opened in Windsor, near Healdsburg, in 2003. Michael Powell had the idea and was putting together his first store when Print Cates walked in, fell in love with the concept, quit his job, and joined the organization. Now there are 18 Powell Sweet Shoppe locations in California, Idaho, and other parts of the west.
Cates, who oversees the franchise operations, (and also holds the title of Candyman) travels around the world to find different candies. He is off to Barcelona soon to visit the Pop Rocks factory. The stores have a entire area devoted to Pop Rocks.
The Hissens opened their Lafayette store in 2008 (it’s a franchise) and had so much fun they decided to open one in Berkeley.
“We don’t really care about selling candy,” said Nabil Hissen. “We care about selling smiles.”
The store will have a daylong grand opening celebration on Saturday Nov. 20. The band from Claremont Middle School in Oakland will play. There will be characters dressed up as Willie Wonka, a ballon-making clown, a face painter, and a life size Jelly Belly motorcycle.
Best of all, the store will give away 1,000 Willie Wonka chocolate bars.