Fun With Candy

My father owned a wholesale grocery business in Atlanta. It was like a Sam’s Club, only a “Mom & Pop” place that catered to convenience store owners. Although the store sold a wide array of grocery items, the vast majority of sales was in candy, cigarettes, chips and drinks.

I worked there in the candy department for almost 8 years. In that time, I had my share of bizarre run-ins with customers. Here are some of my favorites.

*     *     *

“Bulk candy” is loose hard candy or gumballs that come in a giant box. Some candies, like starlight mints, are individually wrapped. Others, like gumballs or buttermints, are not. Such candy is mostly purchased by people who run candy stores or restaurant owners who give away mints with each meal. Although we frequently got calls asking if we carried bulk candy, we actually didn’t, because there simply wasn’t enough demand to make it a regular item in inventory.

One day, a call about bulk candy was put through to me. Keep in mind that the woman on the other end of the line had an obnoxious New York\New Jersey accent:

Me: “Good afternoon, candy department…”
Customer: [with obvious Yankee accent] “Do ya sell bulk candy?”
Me: “No, ma’am, we sure don’t, but if you call [local distributor] I’m sure they’d be able to help you out.”
Customer: “Thank you… Just out of curiosity, where are they located?”
Me: “They’re on Phil Niekro Parkway in Norcross, and…”
Customer: “WHAT?”
Me: “I’m sorry?”
Customer: “I can’t believe that YOU PEOPLE would name a street that! It’s not the 1950s anymore!”
Me: “Excuse me?”
Customer: “That’s disgraceful… naming a street Phil Negro Parkway… YOU PEOPLE should be ashamed! If they did that up where I’m from…”
Me: “It’s ‘Niekro’, ma’am… after Phil Niekro? The pitcher for the Atlanta Braves?”
Customer: “Who?”
Me: “Phil Niekro. N-I-E-K-R-O. Pitcher for the Braves. Had a mean knuckleball, ma’am.”
Customer: [sheepishly] “Oh. I’m sorry.”

*     *     *

Remember fund raising candy? Those large boxes of M&Ms, Snickers and Reese’s Cups that kids sold for Little League, Cub Scouts or band trips? We sold those too. I’d get a couple of calls a day about them. This was one of the more unusual:

Me: “Good afternoon, candy department…”
Customer: “Hello! My name is [name] and I’m the head of the math department at [a City of Atlanta middle school]. I’ve heard that you folks carry fund raising candy, and I was hoping to get some information about that.”
Me: “OK, well, we carry Snickers, M&Ms, Skittles, Reese’s Cups, and Kit Kats. They sell for a dollar a bar and come in a 30 count box, which we sell to you for $15.”
Customer: “So it’s a 50% profit for us, then?”
Me: “No, ma’am. It’s actually 100% profit.”
Customer: “I think you’re mistaken, young man. I’m pretty sure it’s 50% profit.”
Me: “You’re doubling your money, ma’am. That’s 100% profit.”
Customer: “Son, I’m in charge of the math department here at [school] and I think I understand percentages.”
Me: “Well, OK. But ‘50% profit’ means that you get back half of what you put into it. Half of $15 is $7.50, so if it were 50% profit you’d get back $22.50, not $30.”
Customer: “Wait… what?”
Me: “… and 100% profit would mean that you get back 100% of your original investment. In this case, you put in $15 and get $15 back in profit. That’s 100%.”
Customer: “Ummmmm… Yeah, I… well… Uhhh… I’m going to have to call you back…”
Me: “Have a good afternoon, ma’am.”
[I hang up the phone]
Coworker: “Glad my kids didn’t go to City of Atlanta schools!”

*     *     *

Many of my dad’s customers were from the poorer areas of downtown Atlanta. Many of them were individuals who had “living room stores”, where they’d buy some candy bars, chips and drinks and set up a little store in their living rooms. This not only earned some spare money for the family, it was almost seen as a “public service” in their communities, since many people there didn’t have cars.

Our most popular items for living room stores were six-packs of candy bars, which sold for $1.80 at the time. They were far cheaper than the regular 24, 36 or 48 count boxes, and you could get two or three different types of bar for not a lot of money. I was walking near them one day when this older gentlemen motioned to me:

Customer: “Excuse me, I was wondering if you could help me for a sec…”
Me: “Sure! What can I do for you?”
Customer: “Well, I have a living room store, see, and I’ve been buying these here six-packs of candy bars. They’re real popular with all the kids in the neighborhood, but I just can’t seem to make money off them.”
Me: “OK, well… how much are you selling the bars for?”
Customer: “A quarter.”
Me: “Well that’s your problem, sir. The six-packs cost $1.80, and six quarters is only $1.50…”
Customer looks puzzled
Me: “See, you’re losing 30¢ with each six pack you sell.”
Customer is quiet for a few moments
Customer: “OK, I see. I was just wonderin’, since they’re so popular with the kids…”
Me [thinking]: “I bet they are!”

I almost feel bad tell you guys that last story. The customer was a nice old man that just didn’t know better. But it was a culture shock to me, coming from the rich, white Atlanta suburbs, to see someone stumped by such a basic math problem.

2 Replies to “Fun With Candy”

  1. awwww….the good ole days.. i remember you telling me some of these tales over bowls in the car. and yes i still hit the bowl at stop lights.

  2. These are great stories! I hope you don’t mind, but I’m going to put on my blog- giving you credit of course.

    Thanks for the great material! I was cracking up!

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