Heather Saracen’s friends and family knew she had a talent. The gift baskets and candy bouquets she made for them as gifts looked professionally arranged. They told her she should sell them.
So she and her father, Jim Bruno, went into business to do just that. Her husband, Rick Saracen, operated Allentown Chiropractic in the heart of Allentown.
Four years ago, in adjacent vacant space in the same building, Heather opened The Sweetest Things candy store, where she sells everything from candy bars to ice cream sundaes to gift baskets and — skateboards?
Actually, Saracen, 33, no longer sells skateboards at the candy store. But she did — until she had sold so many she and her father opened another store around the corner, Bruno’s Bicycles, in September. There, they sell bicycles and skateboards full time.
“Since we started the store, we’ve always had kids coming in, and you want to have what they’re going to buy,” Saracen said. “They asked about skateboards. I got some, and within 48 hours, they’d bought them all.”
Saracen’s approach has been customer focused since the beginning.
“When we first opened up the store, we just had candy in here. You’ve kind of got to find what the area wants and keep adding to it,” Saracen said. “If you just did one thing, I don’t think you could make it. It’s not like a mall, where people are just walking by. People have to decide to come here.”
Today the shop offers a near sensory overload of treats. There are Gertrude Hawk and Asher’s chocolates in one counter and homemade fudge in another; banks of bulk candy buckets share a wall with boxes of nostalgic candy brands such as Mary Janes, Skybars, Fifth Avenues and Bit O’Honeys. There are candy bouquets (think fl oral arrangements, then replace the daisies and baby’s breath with sweets) and gift baskets (premade or to order), balloons, water ice, ice cream, party favors, popcorn, Webkinz and more.
Despite all the options, most customers have no problem homing in on the treat they want most. Kids arrive after school to trade in wrinkled dollars and stacks of quarters for barley pops or bubble gum. Shoppers stop in with armfuls of antiques and ask Saracen if she has any licorice.
“We’ve got all kinds of licorice,” she tells them. “Black licorice, shoestring licorice, Kookaburra Australian licorice … we’ve got about 20 kinds.”
When the festive season arrives, Saracen sells plenty of that trusty holiday treat, chocolate-covered pretzels. The Sweetest Things has 36 different kinds. They come covered in M&Ms, Reese’s Pieces, Oreos, nonpareils, peanut brittle, toffee, peanut butter chips, blueberries and sprinkles. Saracen sells trays of pretzels that her customers give as gifts. As with the gift baskets, they can be custom made or off -the-shelf.
When it comes to gift baskets, Saracen said she can handle all sorts of themes. She makes pasta dinner baskets (popular as sympathy baskets), cheese and cracker baskets, tea and coffee baskets, candy and chocolate baskets and just about any other kind of basket her customers can think of.
Holidays are special times for the store. Every Halloween, she has a line out her door and down the street, all night. She opens up to let kids go in and pick out one candy of anything they want. On Valentine’s Day, she does a brisk business (chocolate-dipped fruits are always a hit, she said).
The Sweetest Things also hosts birthday parties. Saracen can fit up to 15 kids in the store, and parties have different themes — you can have a Webkinz birthday, a High School Musica karaoke birthday, or a build-your-own sundae party. She supplies everything from paper products and pizza to loot bags for each kid. The store is closed during the parties.
The Sweetest Things is open Tuesday through Friday from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m., Saturdays from 10 to 5 and Sundays from 11 to 4. The store has a Web site, sweetestthingscandy.com, where one can see details on the theme parties and pictures of gift baskets and party trays that are available, but orders are accepted in the store or by phone only. The Sweetest Things phone number is (609) 208-9064. The store will ship items anywhere and deliver them a certain distance from Allentown.
On Dec. 6 and 7 from noon to 3 p.m., Santa Claus will visit the store and pose for photographs. No purchase will be necessary.