Haymarket Candy Store serves as the museum's sweet spot
A stroll down the gaslit lanes of the Streets of Old Milwaukee exhibit at the Milwaukee Public Museum is not complete unless it includes a stop at the water pump, a salutation to "grandma" rocking on the porch and a visit to the Haymarket Candy Store.
Catherine Wallberg is the director of retail operations for the museum, which means that, among other duties, she orders all of the candy and other items for Haymarket.
She says the best-sellers are the candy sticks which are purchased from a company in New Orleans called Dumas Candy Co. The individually-wrapped candies are available three for $1 and stored inside large glass jars. In the month of March alone, Wallberg says they have sold over 9,000 sticks.
"The most popular flavors seem to change. There's a lot of variation," she says. "The tutti-frutti, root beer, cherry and cotton candy flavors are always popular. And anything blue sells well, too."
Wallberg says candy stick sales might be reflective of the season. "Suddenly, we'll have a big run on the lemon flavor or, during the holidays, on the cinnamon," she says.
Other popular Haymarket candy items include other retro goodies like candy buttons (on the strips of white paper), candy necklaces and bracelets, lollipops, Necco wafers, violet candies and rock candy.
"The blue rock candy is the most popular. You don't always think of something that shade of blue as being edible, but it's a favorite," says Wallberg.
Haymarket offers a few modern candy bars and chocolates as well as gift shop-type items including T-shirts, postcards, paper dolls and pencil sharpeners shaped like old-timey oil lamps, spinning wheels and horse buggies.
"We try to have reasonably-priced little items for sale for parents who don't want their kids to have sweets," says Wallberg.
Eating and drinking is not allowed in the exhibits, which is sometimes difficult for younger customers to understand. Haymarket cashiers are trained to gently remind customers that they can eat their sweets on the ground floor in the cafe area only.
"This is not to say that people of all ages might sometimes sneak a bite of something here or there," says Wallberg. "We stock some items with that in mind. But what we don't want is anything too sticky near the artifacts. For this reason, we do not sell gum or those wax bottles with the sweet liquid inside."
Wallberg says it is unknown exactly when the Haymarket Candy Shop opened.
The Streets of Old Milwaukee exhibit was introduced to the public in 1965 and the little space was originally more of a gift shop than a candy shop. By 1976, however, Wallberg is certain the shop was stocking items similar to what is available today.
The Haymarket name is based on a real hay market that once existed on 5th and Vliet Streets. "It provided hay for Milwaukee's horse population," says Wallberg. "It later became a farmers' market."
One of the biggest challenges of the Haymarket Candy Shop is the limited amount of space. It's a cozy 17 feet long by nine feet wide but the cashier's desk takes up a sizable portion of the area. Because of its small size, the Haymarket limits customers to 10 at a time which means there is sometimes a line to get in.
Wallberg says it's not easy to keep the shop stocked because of the limited storage space – there's a candy closet in the museum where the overstock is kept and stocking has to be done every day. And because of the need to stock daily, the candy shop usually closes an hour before the museum.
"Especially on free museums days or when we get school groups, the candy flies out the door," says Wallberg.
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