WELLFLEET –– On Main Street, there isn’t much to do if you’re under 10 years old. Sure, there are art galleries, coffee shops, and clothing stores, but those are pretty boring unless you’re a grown-up. Trailing behind your parents as they browse can get annoying. But wait — something catches your eye. It’s the quaint house on a knoll: an inviting pink sign in cursive letters hangs above the door: “The Chocolate Sparrow.”
Every summer, children would descend ecstatically on Wellfleet’s beloved candy store for 10-cent Smarties and 15-cent Bull’s Eyes, crystalized sugar lollipops and gummy sharks. A piece of candy seldom cost less than a dollar anywhere else. But in the Chocolate Sparrow, where “penny candy” still existed, kids could spend five dollars and collect a hefty paper-bag-full of treats. The candy store is a summer essential.
This summer, there was devastating news: the Chocolate Sparrow had closed. In June, a “For Rent” sign appeared outside the small whitewashed shop.
Perry Sparrow, the store’s owner, explained that Covid-19 was largely the reason.
In the past, the store was run under the watchful eyes of an international-student staff. But by late spring, Sparrow said, “We weren’t sure what the situation would be with the foreign students we needed to operate the store.”
Sparrow also owns the Hot Chocolate Sparrow in Orleans, which remains open. “We had to make sure our prime location had enough staffing,” Sparrow said. He explained that the small house that held the Wellfleet store would not have complied with safety regulations. “The building has no ventilation,” Sparrow said. “It would be impossible to let people in.”
When asked if the Chocolate Sparrow would return, Sparrow wasn’t sure. “It’s a month-to-month or week-to-week decision,” he said. “We’ll make the decision early in 2021.”
Wellfleet has had a candy store for decades. In 1956, Judy and Richard Voss established the Penney Patch on Main Street here. It was one of four branches, with the others in Hyannis, Provincetown, and on Nantucket. Paul Endich, who worked for the Vosses for five years, then purchased the Wellfleet and Provincetown locations in 1973, continuing the tradition of selling penny candy to eager children and resigned adults. The place, said Mary Fox, owner of the building that housed the Chocolate Sparrow, was “something special for the kids.”
But the Penney Patch, along with four other stores on Main Street, burned to the ground in the summer of 1976.
Wellfleet resident Marla Rice remembers witnessing the event with a few of her close friends. “We sat on the lawn across the street,” she said. “We watched it burn and cried.”
Endich did not rebuild the Penney Patch here, though he has maintained the store in Provincetown. The space where it sat is now the park next to Wellfleet Preservation Hall. Fifteen years after the fire, the candy store gap was filled by the Chocolate Sparrow.
This summer, Fox was sad to see the Chocolate Sparrow go. Rice offered her own opinion on the importance of candy stores: “I think candy and ice cream are super important.” Small and happy, they make old towns special, she added.
Saskia Keller of Truro, a reporter for the Provincetown Independent, used to go to the Chocolate Sparrow on Sundays with her dad, David. “We’d also get blueberry pancakes at the Wicked Oyster and go to the playground,” she said. She remembered a ritual they shared: “Usually we’d decide on a theme for the candy we got: all blue things, or rainbow things, or chocolate.”
Saskia, like many others, was a child searching for fun on Main Street who bounced happily into candy paradise at the Chocolate Sparrow. “It’s funny,” she said. “Even now when I walk by the store, the little kid part of me sort of perks up. It feels weird that it isn’t open.”
In pandemic times at the Hot Chocolate Sparrow in Orleans, kids can’t rummage through glass jars of Laffy Taffies, Bit-o-Honeys, Dum-Dums, and Tootsie Pops to throw them haphazardly into a bag. Instead, the options seem more grown-up: you can select a bag of chocolate covered blueberries, artfully arranged gummy bears, or a box of beautiful hand-crafted peanut-butter cups.
The Hot Chocolate Sparrow is different from the Chocolate Sparrow. But it’s still a candy store, there to sweeten your day.
Still, the loss of the Wellfleet Chocolate Sparrow feels significant. Perhaps that’s because a candy store provides more than just sweets. Alongside the jars of candy necklaces and gummy frogs lived memories of childhood joy and newfound financial freedom.
When asked what the best part of owning a candy store was, Perry Sparrow did not mention discounts on candy or sneaking tastes of new stock. Instead, he said, “Being the center of a community, where a lot of people depend on us for social interaction every day. It makes you feel like you’re needed for more than just a piece of chocolate.”