What started as an accident will soon become a “sweet” new addition to the downtown Village in La Mesa – Royal Candy Castle.
The new candy shop is owned by Joe and Erika Struzzieri, and as residents have wandered by the storefront on La Mesa Boulevard, in the former location of Homeland Florists, seeing the couple work at restoring the space is bringing a wave of sugary anticipation.
“Everyone has been so welcoming and extremely inviting,” said Joe. “[Neighbors] are all nice and helpful and supportive. This is a very nice community and we’ve already seen and felt that.”
The couple, who was married in 2009, say that they plan on having a “soft launch” during Oktoberfest this weekend. They had originally planned to be fully open, but unexpected delays and additional costs to some of the renovations put them behind schedule.
The store will feature pre-packaged candies that are often now hard to find, as the couple is hoping to become one of the city’s merchants of sweet nostalgia.
“We’re going to have things like Zagnuts, Abba Zabas, Cowtails, candy cigarettes, some of the classics,” said Joe. “We grew up with some of these things. We want to be all about the community, and want to share those nostalgic memories with other people.”
In addition to nostalgic candies, the Royal Candy Castle will also offer modern candies, novelty gifts, 30 kinds of salt water taffy, and educational toys. Joe said that they eventually want to offer other kinds of sweet treats, like ice cream, shaved ice and soda fountains for items like root beer and Coke floats.
So how did the Struzzieri’s decide on the Village for the location of the confectionary quarters? That’s where the “accident” comes in.
“We got lost here one day,” said Erika. “We came into La Mesa and we like antiques, so we started doing some antiquing. Then we saw this place and just fell in love with it. We knew it would be the perfect place for our candy store.”
Joe said that they had been looking at other locations, including at some of the area’s shopping malls, but that no place had the nostalgic feeling they are trying to offer, quite like La Mesa Boulevard.
“The mall candy stores are all about business. You are just another tenant,” he said. “But we want to be extremely involved in the community, so this was perfect for us.”
The shop is right in the middle of the Village, and features bright-colored walls, painted with pink, brown and yellow stripes (kind of like a Neapolitan ice cream). Erika said that they want the décor to be inviting – a bit old fashioned with a flair of modern – to stimulate everyone’s senses.
But most importantly, they want to focus on customer service.
“We want to re-do the idea of customer service,” she said. “We want people to walk in and feel good, even if they don’t buy anything. We just want them to remember that they had a good experience in our shop.”
So why a candy shop?
It mainly has to do with the Struzzieri’s other professions. Erika works for a bail bonds company, and Joe is a former Marine who worked in law enforcement.
“Those jobs are very high stress jobs,” Erika said. “I love what I do, but it’s nice to be able to get away from that kind of environment and be around something positive.”
Joe, who served in the Marine Corps from 2001-09, and was deployed in Djibouti (Africa), Kuwait, and Qatar, said that the shop is a way for them to be able to enjoy something fun with their three daughters.
“We love doing amusement parks and things like that with the girls,” he said. “We want to do things that make the girls happy after working those harsh schedules. Candy seemed like the perfect thing.”
Royal Candy Castle will be open every day of the week, once it fully opens. Joe said they will offer great specials around the holidays, including Halloween, which is fast approaching.
Though they are new residents to the Village, they have already heard about the ever-present PBID. Joe said they need to become a little more educated on it, and haven’t really taken time to look into it fully while launching the store. But he also added, that “for the time being, we are against it.”
The Struzzieri’s want to become a community staple, and plan on offering children discounts on treats for getting good grades. They also plan on starting a “Candy of the Month” club that will be a membership program.
Joe said that they look forward to meeting more of their neighboring retailers, and will be more than happy to refer customers to other shops in the Village.
“We don’t want to come in and threaten anyone else’s business,” he said. “We know they do fudge down the street, so we don’t want to sell fudge.”
Erika said she thinks the candy shop will fit in well perfectly.
“We just want to come in and embrace the community. It’s a very family-oriented community, and I think we can really bring that added ‘flavor,’ no pun intended.”
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