By Tom Holmes
Sylvia Avila, who has worked at the Ferrara Candy Company's outlet store at 7301 Harrison St. for 35 years, and Carmen Montano, who has been selling Lemonheads and Chewy Redhots at the location for 21 years, did the ribbon cutting at the grand reopening of the iconic little store that sells over 200,000 pounds of candy a year.
John Conversa, Ferrara's director of manufacturing in the U.S., said the store had been closed for several weeks for remodeling.
"It hasn't had much done to it since it opened in the late 1980s," he said. "It's really a charming store that we expanded and spruced up a bit with better lighting, new display cabinets, a larger floor plan and new displays for showcasing our products."
Avila was happy that the murals on the walls, which depict a fanciful candy factory complete with elves helping the master candymaker, were preserved. She pointed to a place on the door frame where the artist, Charles Nitti, signed his name in 1989. The store is not only iconic but a source of nostalgia for generations of Forest Parkers.
"Now," she said, "I'm having people I sold Atomic Fire Blasts to when they were children bringing their grandchildren in."
Indeed, many prominent Forest Park residents have fond childhood memories connected to the little store. Mayor Calderone's executive secretary and deputy village clerk, Sally Cody, remembers sweet aromas wafting through the open windows of her St. Bernardine School classroom and, when school let out, going through the parking lot to buy candy at the store which in "the old days" was located at the north end of the building near the Eisenhower Expressway.
Commissioner Rachell Entler remembered her St. Bernardine class being given a tour of the factory, which she said was "pretty neat," and how Sal Ferrara often donated candy to the school.
Commissioner Joe Byrnes, who lives just three blocks from the candy factory and also enjoys the aromas, worked security for Ferrara way back in 1975. He has watched the company grow for over 45 years, and picked up on Entler's comment regarding the company's involvement in the community.
"They are always there when we need something," he said, adding that when he and his wife go down to Florida, friends there ask them to bring Lemonheads along.
At the ribbon cutting, Mike Goldwasser, Ferrara's chief human resources officer, told the crowd, "We are using the proceeds from the store to help fund the new Ferrara Scholarship Program through which we are offering ten $5,000 college scholarships to the children of Ferrara employees. We are thrilled to get the store going again and to invest in the families of our employees."
The expansion allows the company to display more of its major brands like Lemonheads, Chewy Redhots, Trolli Sour Bites, Chuckles, Now and Later, and Rain Blo, along with Brach brands including, Brach's Doable Dipper, Milk Chocolate Stars, and a gigantic 10-ounce Gummy Bunny for Easter.
Along with Ferrara's major brands, the store features special candies for each holiday. Right now customers are purchasing cases, literally cases, of jelly bean Easter eggs. Conversa said in December it's Christmas rings, Brach's Chocolate Covered Almonds, and Bob's Candy Canes. Around Valentine's Day the big seller is Brach's Conversation Hearts.
Conversa said there has never been a "grand design" for the store "other than to be a local candy store where kids and adults could purchase a wide variety of our products for a fair price. In the summer months it's very common to see bikes and strollers parked outside the door."
In the crowd of dignitaries and well-wishers at the ribbon cutting was a class of fifth-graders from Churchill School in Glen Ellyn, who actually worked with Ferrara last year to create a new candy recipe that would appeal specifically to millennials.