The rows of rainbow-hued soda bottles glinting in the front window are what draw a lot of Loop pedestrians into Rocket Fizz.
Once inside, though, it’s clear the 500-plus soda flavors — including Fidel Castro’s Havana Banana, among other dictatorial delights — are but one outlet for the shop’s saccharine extremism.
It’s just the place to answer the sweet siren song of Halloween.
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A side wall is lined with 40 feet of bins holding wax-paper-wrapped, pastel-swirled saltwater taffy — vanilla and orange cream, of course, but also chili mango, apple pie and coconut key lime.
That marriage of traditional treats with trendy flavors permeates the University City candy shop. Intermingled with the treasure trove of confections are pop culture knickknacks, space-age gag gifts, posters of classic rock concerts and life-size cutouts of superheroes.
“It’s a multigenerational store,” says manager Mark Strahm, who has been working at Rocket Fizz since his wife, Cheryl, and their friend Michael Rohrbacker opened the franchise in May.
Counter space is devoted to today’s bacon craze — bacon soda, bacon chocolate, bacon buttercrunch toffee. That fad is juxtaposed with piles of hard-to-find candy bars that made their debut during the Depression: four-flavor Sky Bars, marshmallow-stuffed Valomilks and coconut-coated Zagnuts.
“People react to seeing treats from their childhood,” says Strahm, “like kids in a candy store.”
Shoppers slow their pace as they fall into a sugar-anticipation stupor. They dawdle over packs of Pop Rocks, pouches of Razzles, stacks of Twin Bings.
Extreme flavor-seekers rifle through wasabi gumballs, ants suspended in hard candy and bottles of buffalo chicken wing soda pop.
Strahm says he is partial to the international treats, which claim space on several kiosks. His current favorite is a fruity Italian hard candy about the size of a pencil eraser and wrapped in bright foil.
On Halloween, Rocket Fizz will hand out treats to children in costume and will host a Facebook-voting contest for the best one.
Trick-or-treaters can also go about a block east on Delmar Boulevard to Miss M’s, a much smaller, but just as effective, dispenser of sugar buzzes.
The shop, owned by Sharon and Lee Echols, packs its teeny footprint with 16 varieties of gummy bears, two dozen flavors of saltwater taffy, silos of M&M’s and brick-size blocks of fudge.
Glass canisters overflow with tiramisu caramels, lemon-ginger blueberries and cinnamon-vanilla almonds. At the other end of the counter — and good taste — sits an assortment of gummy brains, chewy eyeballs and wax vampire teeth.
“Everything in the store is candy-related,” says Sharon Echols, including lollipop necklaces, Skittles-scented candles and “Arm Candy” bags constructed from candy and gum wrappers.
The Echolses, who are expatriates from the mortgage industry, opened Miss M’s — named for two of their daughters — four years ago.
“We wanted to do something fun,” says Lee Echols. “It’s been very rewarding.”
Where Rocket Fizz, 6303 Delmar Boulevard, University City • Hours 10 a.m.-9 p.m. Sunday-Thursday; 10 a.m.-10 p.m. Friday-Saturday • More info rocketfizz.com; 314-833-4614
Where Miss M’s Candy Boutique, 6193 Delmar Boulevard • Hours Noon-4 p.m. Sunday; 11 a.m.-7 p.m. Monday-Thursday; 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Friday-Saturday • More info missmscandy.com; 314-721-7000
PACE YOURSELF — THERE'S MORE CANDY
These local confectionaries have something to satisfy every sweet tooth, from nostalgic treasures and children’s favorites to high-end handmade truffles and chocolates. You might even be able to score some Switzer’s licorice and fruit twists, a St. Louis original since 1888.
How Sweet Is This: The former home of Oh Lolli Lolli has a new owner but the same devotion to all things sweet. For adventurous types, candy “grab bags” put a serendipitous spin on the paralyzing decision of what to try. Where 804 DeMun Avenue, Clayton • Hours Noon-6 p.m. Sunday; 2-8 p.m. Monday; noon-8 p.m. Tuesday-Thursday; noon-9 p.m. Friday; 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Saturday • More info 314-721-9600; howsweetisthis.com
Sweet Be’s Candy and Gifts: Billing itself as “more than just a candy store,” the shop offers party rooms and sells popular toys such as Webkinz and rainbow looms, in addition to sugary fare. Where 12027 Manchester Road, Des Peres • Hours 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Sunday; 9:30 a.m.-6:30 p.m. Monday-Friday; 9:30 a.m.-6 p.m. Saturday • More info 314-835-1400; sweetbe.com
Crown Candy Kitchen: Chocolate Easter monkeys won’t make their annual appearance till spring, but the famed kitchen sells its heavenly hash, peanut brittle and molasses puffs, among other handmade confections, year round. Where 1401 St. Louis Avenue • Hours 10:30 a.m.-8 p.m. Monday-Thursday; 10:30 a.m.-9 p.m. Friday-Saturday • More info 314-621-9650; crowncandykitchen.net
Merb’s Candies: Now is the time for Bionic Apples, the gargantuan Granny Smiths dunked in a thick layer of caramel, then rolled in pecans and eaten on a stick. Where 4000 South Grand Boulevard; plus locations in South County and Ballwin • Hours 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday-Saturday • More info 314-832-7117; merbscandies.com
Bissinger’s Chocolates: The high-end chocolatier isn’t too fancy to mark the spooky holiday with skull lollipops, chocolate-filled haunted houses and foil-wrapped Frankensteins. Where 32 Maryland Plaza; plus a location at Plaza Frontenac • Hours 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Tuesday-Wednesday; 10 a.m.-10 p.m. Thursday; 10 a.m.-midnight Friday-Saturday; noon-8 p.m. Sunday • More info 314-367-7750; bissingers.com
Kakao Chocolate: The shop prepares its chocolate indulgences in small batches, using grown-up ingredients such as ginger, white pepper and sea salt to enhance its truffles and barks. Where 7272 Manchester Road, Maplewood; plus locations in St. Louis and Clayton • Hours 10 a.m.-7 p.m. Monday-Saturday; noon-5 p.m. Sunday • More info 314-645-4446; kakaochocolate.com