A cheerfully painted pair of buildings on the corner of 8th and Central in the eastern section of downtown, Jack's Wholesale Candy Warehouse is a family-owned business, an enormous version of that mom-and-pop candy store of your childhood.
Owned by the Ahamed family for the last 33 years, Jack's is a literal warehouse that supplies candy nationwide and to local businesses, but is also open to the public -- 20,000 square feet of chocolate bars and jelly beans, boxes of gummy bears and lollipops, Skittles and Tootsie Rolls and a thousand kinds of Mexican candies. Pinatas hang from the ceiling. Bags of candy are stacked as tall as adults, maybe two or three or four times as high as the kids who, on the last Saturday before Halloween, are staring in shock at the universe materializing before them.Long before the Ahamed family bought the business in 1980, Jack's was a candy operation. It began in the 1930s, says Minaz Ahamed, whose father and uncle bought the store and who now owns it with his brother, when a guy named Jack Levy started selling candy from a little cart.
The cart became a brick-and-mortar business, which eventually moved to its current location -- and which will expand again next year, when Jack's Warehouse will move across the street into a new space on Central and double its square footage.
Of course, not only do people come for the massive selection, but for the wholesale prices, which allow you to load your car with Willy Wonka-sized helpings of Brach's and Cadbury's, Chipurnoi and Haribo, Nestlé and Hershey's on the cheap.
Ahamed says that the business has changed in the last few years, as more people have moved into the downtown area. He gets a surprising amount of foot traffic to the store, as well as people driving in from Irvine and Bakersfield, loading up for candy buffet parties or bringing their kids for the spectacle of a warehouse full of chocolates.
Along with the aisles filled with boxes and loaded with oversized bags of candy, candy lines the walls, many boxes cut open to reveal multi-colored jelly beans and Japanese and Mexican candies, flats of Jolly Ranchers and Pop Rocks, chocolate coins and Smarties and goat milk lollipops.
"It's nostalgia candy," says Ahamed, who says he's noticed a move back to retro brands like Mallow Puffs and Tootsie Rolls in the last few years. The enormous selection, as well as bulk sizes, lets people shop for candy by era, by size, even by color -- in case you've gone all Martha Stewart and want to match your bowls of candy to your costume or the decorations in your front yard.
As much fun as it is to bring your kids to Jack's, maybe wait until after Halloween -- because once they get inside, there won't be much incentive to spend hours knocking on all those doors.