Vic's doles out candy, cigarettes
For 83 years, the Jazwiecki family has owned Vic's Wholesale, a South Side-based business offering good deals on primarily candy and cigarettes. In 1928, Victor Jazwiecki opened a small smoke shop across the street from the current location, 1911 W. Forest Home Ave., to which he moved in 1963.
The business has experienced its share of ups and downs, from the Great Depression to the current challenging economy, but continues to be the livelihood of a third and fourth generation of Jazwieckis.
Joel, Vic's grandson, runs the business with the help of his son, Adam. Joel's father Raymond, who originally took the business over from Vic, is semi-retired and continues to help out.
"My dad started working here when he was 15. I've worked here for 31 years," says Joel.
Although cigarettes and rolling tobacco were originally the business' bread and butter, today it's the candy that keeps the financial juices flowing.
"The cigarette business is dying down," says Joel.
Vic's, however, still sells cartons of cigarettes and specializes in rolling tobacco. They carry most of the major brands of loose tobacco including Top, Bugle and Rave. According to Joel, rolling tobacco has had a resurgence in popularity because it is cheaper than buying pre-rolled cigarettes. Although, he says, lately the price of loose tobacco has gone up, too, and it's not as affordable as it used to be.
"Our main thing is candy. We have one of the largest selections of candy in the state," says Joel.
Vic's also specializes in nostalgic candy, meaning the kind people bought 20 or more years ago at "penny candy" stores. Candy buttons, Slo-Pokes, Pez, candy necklaces and watches, Necco wafers, Sixlets, Fun Dip, Spree and "satellite wafers" – those Styrofoam-ish dics filled with tiny candy balls – are among the old school sweets available. Joel says when people ask about the Satellite Wafers he usually compares them to hosts in church.
"The nostalgia candy is our niche. It's what keeps us going," he says.
Modern candy from Sour Patch Kids to Snickers are also available, along with Beer Nuts, beef jerky and chips. Joel says Swedish fish, Satellite Wafers and Snickers remain the most popular items in the store.
All of the candy is sold wholesale, which means large amounts that allow for a discounted price per piece. Is is 20 to 30 percent cheaper to buy candy through a wholesaler like Vic's.
Mostly, Vic's sells to gift shops, schools, County Parks and pools, liquor stores and bars. Joel says he also sells to parents stocking up for birthday party prizes, goody bags and pinatas.
"The neighborhood has changed, there are a lot more Spanish-speaking people now, so we sell a lot of candy for pinatas," he says.
He says, luckily, there are enough candy-centered events and holidays throughout the year that keeps business steady. Christmas and the 4th of July are the most popular holidays and Joel says Easter and Halloween aren't as profitable as they used to be. The school year is profitable, too, because a lot of teachers buy candy for rewards.
Vic's also sells novelty items like Whoopie cushions and, ironically, toothbrushes. Joel laughed when asked if his family has a history of expensive dental work considering they're in the candy business.
"If you brush your teeth after you eat candy, you'll be OK," he says.
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