Running a general store isn’t what it used to be but Steliane Loukes will never run out of things to sell.
“We had everything under the sun,” Miss Loukes said of Candyland and Variety Store, the little shop at Second and Market that is practically bursting with a bizarre assortment of merchandise.
At first most of it looks like ceramic knickknacks, candy bars and magazines but as one’s eyes get used to the dim interior it begins to seem as if some of the stuff’s been on the shelves since she and her brother, Andrew, opened in 1939.
Everything? For the curious visitor, the tiny Greek woman steps behind the counter for proof. She returns with a paper bag and pulls out a faded business card.
“Be amazed! Be thrilled, by trying to stump us,” the printed message challenges. “Fifty thousand items to choose from. Ask for it – we have it.”
Of course, those days are gone. Andrew died 11 years ago, but even before then the store, that kind of store, was swept out of fashion by a wave of supermarkets and discount merchandisers.
Miss Loukes does not, for example, still sell the parrots and canaries she used to raise in the storeroom next door, although she still keeps six parrots in the back as pets.
Nor does she sell guns anymore. License fee is too much trouble, she says.
And, sadly, no more of the candy that was the store’s real claim to fame. Her brother made all his candy right in the store, but stopped in the late 1960s as the public’s taste changed. “It didn’t sell anymore,” she says by way of explanation, as if she really didn’t understand why herself. “And sugar got so high,” she adds.
But in the course of 42 years, she insists, in the confectionery turned-general store, “We had everything. Just ask anybody.”
“Rubber boots?” one might ask.
“Oh, yes, the kind that came up to here!” she says, gesturing to her knees. “Still got ‘em.”
Grass seed? Of course. Bicycles, car headlights, wedding gowns, dolls, thimbles, stove pipe, dishes and silverware, hunting and fishing licenses, Bibles, cameras, even bowling balls? Yes, all that and lots of other sporting goods, too, she affirms that she points to a basketball hoop that graces a top shelf.
“No!” She finally says, looking as if she feels she was trapped.
But all those other things in a store so cramped there is barely room for a shopper to take 10 steps. That’s only the public area, though. Behind that are the closed stacks, rows and rows of dusty shelves, and she intimates there is an upstairs and a downstairs as well as the storeroom alongside.
The incredulous visitor’s education is interrupted, as if on cue, by an old man who comes in and asks to buy one postage stamp. Miss Loukes disappears behind another counter and hunts in a drawer, then comes back with the stamp. She converses gaily with the man while his trembling fingers count out 15 pennies. When there are no customers Miss Loukes has other ways to keep busy. Taking inventory is one. Although she knows where everything is, since most of the stock has been sitting on the same shelf for years, it’s a year-round job just making a list.
“I’ll betcha I’ve had one bottle of castor oil 15 years,” she ventures, but a query about the oldest item in the store brings instead a metal scraper with leather finger loops, a cornhusker, which she says was stocked in the mid-1940s.
How many does she have in the box? “Half a dozen,” she says, then adds hopefully, as if to make the big sale, “but I’ve got more boxes next door.”
I one time Miss Loukes’ building was Portsmouth’s second jail. Later it was owned by A Brunner, who ran a dry goods store in what was then the best location in the city.
But the US Grant Bridge opened in 1927 to span the Ohio River, and soon the center of commerce shifted from Market Street three blocks east to Chillicothe Street, which had become the off-ramp of Kentucky.
Still, Candyland was in a good spot when it opened at the end of the Depression, in a residential neighborhood full of customers for the shop.
During World War II it was in a great spot. As a candymaker in years previous, Andrew Loukes was able to get a sugar allocation to continue his business. Candyland was the only place in town to buy candy, his sister remembers, and she claims people used to line up all the way to Chillicothe Street to buy their confections.
The press of business, and its success, became her whole life. Even now, Miss Loukes keeps the store opened, with no employees to help her, from 10 AM to 9 or 10 PM. The early closings are a small concession to her 69 years – she used to keep it open until 1 AM.
But it wasn’t what she planned on as a girl. At age 12 she and her sister came from Sparta, Greece, to the United States to join their father and brother.
“I stayed two months at Ellis Island because I was young,” she recalls, still with indignation.
Finally Andrew came to New York from Ohio, where he was a partner in a candy and ice cream shop. He brought her home to Marion where she embarked on what she already perceived to be her goal in life, to be a teacher.
Without knowing any English, she enrolled in first grade, and six years later she graduated from Harding High School, as a faded and torn clipping from the November 26, 1929, Marion Star describes.
The other front-page news was mostly bad as the decade ended, and instead of returning to Sparta to teach, Miss Loukes had to go to work with her brother. By the end of the Depression the pair sought a new opportunity for themselves in Portsmouth, first on Gallia Street and, a year later, at the present site.
Business was good through the war and even better afterward, “clear up to 1967,” she recalls.
But then, “things changed – the styles changed. All at once. Isn’t that something?”
“I still have overalls. Six dozen. And hats – but nobody wears hats anymore.”
“It used to be a busy place here,” Miss Loukes relates. “And now you hardly see anybody after 5 o’clock.”
Does she still make a good living out of the store? “Oh, yes!” She says, then, “Well…fair.” Her voice gets quieter when she explains, “it’s just me, now.”
But she won’t let the conversation dwell on that. She begins her tale of how, in the halcyon days, the name Candyland meant a store that sold “anything you can think of.”
“We used to have a sign that said: ‘Everything from cradle-to-grave.’”2