You quicken your pace as you walk past the weather-beaten man who drinks out of a paper bag in front of the X-rated movie house and asks you for spare change. You pause for a moment and look around. A Mexican grocery store. A bank. The golden arches. A candy shop.
In the window are purple and gold boxes of candy. There are teddy bears, stained-glass renditions of sundaes, other cuddly stuffed animals. A tattered canopy reads, “Chocolate shop, candy, shakes, banana splits, sundaes.” You wonder why it hasn’t been leveled by a wrecking ball. You look for the warning signs–the pinball machines, the signs that say “Under New Ownership,” “Closed for Vacation,” or “We Use Genuine Bresler’s Ice Cream,” but they’re not there either. You walk in and feel as though you are entering a time warp; this place looks like it hasn’t changed in decades.
The entrance to Margie’s, on the southwest corner of Western and Armitage, says “Margie’s Candies” in big pink neon letters against a bright yellow background. Inside, there is a big glass case filled with homemade chocolates. Peering out of glass cases are lots of content-looking stuffed toys that you could give to a date when a perfect afternoon ends with sharing a strawberry milk shake. It looks a little like the drugstore where young George Bailey worked in It’s a Wonderful Life.
There’s an old-fashioned soda counter. Places are set with white doilies atop silver trays. Behind the soda counter is a huge old Frigidaire that still works and an ornate brass cash register. The walls are paneled with wood, and behind each booth is a row of mirrors. There are a few old clocks on the walls that don’t work, and at each booth there’s a little jukebox. According to the jukeboxes, America’s listening to “YMCA” by the Village People, “Shop Around” by the Captain and Tennille, and “You Don’t Bring Me Flowers” by Barbra Streisand and Neil Diamond.
At one of the booths in the back, Margie Poulos is taking a break. She’s been working here ever since 1933 when she and her husband bought the place from her father-in-law, who opened it as “Security Sweet Shop” back in 1925.
“It was always an elegant place,” said Poulos. “In my day, the young children were never allowed to go into a candy store. You had to be older, so they would let us stand outside and the older ones would come in and they would buy things.
“In 1933, when I got married, everything in the neighborhood was ‘Security,'” said Poulos. “The real estate people used to be called Security Real Estate, the bank used to be Security Bank. Since 1933 we’ve been Margie’s. After my husband and I bought it from my father-in-law, we thought for candy a woman’s name would be best.”
Fifty-four years later, Margie Poulos is still a very visible figure at Margie’s Candies. She helps to make the candy and ice cream, works behind the counter during lunchtime, and can often be seen at her booth in the back, eating, resting, or watching a little Magnavox TV. When she talks about the past, it’s like getting a glimpse of history.
“You know where the police station is now?” she asks, gesturing vaguely. “That’s where Riverview used to be. And there was a roller rink where Toys-R-Us is now. When the roller rink was here and the skaters were coming we made a couple of sundaes like “Skater’s Delight’ and things like that.”
She turns around, gazing out a window, and begins to list landmarks that used to be around the neighborhood. One gets the impression that Margie’s Candies is one of the only places that is still around. “Bargain Town used to be around here. There used to be the Roseland Ballroom there. There used to be a couple of nice theaters–the Congress theater, the Harding theater . . .
“We used to have a jukebox,” Poulos recalls, “and in around 1938, couples used to get up and dance in the middle of the floor over there. Then, in 1954 we put in these small jukeboxes.” She pointed to the jukebox near us, which is about the size of a portable TV. “The man that put these in just came back from Florida, and I thought he had passed away,” laughs Poulos, “and he was standing in front of me and I looked at him. He was from the Swing Time music company. He’s 92 years old. He looked at those little boxes and he said, ‘You know, I ought to fix all these boxes so they’ll run.’ They work, but I don’t have them working. I don’t want to draw in a different kind of people here.
“In World War II we were real busy,” she continues. “People used to be lined up outside waiting to get in, especially during the shortage of sugar. They used to be lined up waiting to get in here. You couldn’t do anything. You couldn’t get anything anywhere. You were rationed. They gave you stamps.
“Years ago when the Beatles were here,” says Poulos, flashing forward from the 40s to the 60s, “they brought some girls here. A big limousine dropped the girls in, but I don’t remember it much. Everybody was excited, but it happened so fast.
“In the 70s, business kind of slacked. And then it went up again. The generation today–they all love the old style. You’re better off not changing.”
Comments from customers in a leather-bound volume indicate that Margie’s is helping to accommodate her customers’ nostalgic leanings.
“A refreshing trip back to a simpler time,” one reads. “Just like mom always talks about,” declares another. “A boyhood dream come true,” says a third.
Another item in Margie’s book reads, “My first ice cream cone here was in 1925, and I remember that I stood in line for one hour to get it. 60 years as a boy and man I come here and still enjoy it more and more every year.”
Over at the counter a man is savoring a dollop of the hot fudge that Margie makes several times a week. It is much more generous than most of the hot fudge sundaes that one encounters. Lots of ice cream, whipped cream, and homemade hot fudge. The sign outside boasts the fudge’s 18 percent butterfat content. It’s probably the same sundae that you could have gotten in the 20s and 30s when Margie’s husband was still driving a Model T. The food. The decorations. Even the people, according to Margie Poulos, are pretty much the same. But you can’t go to the roller rink in the neighborhood anymore. You can get a Big Mac, or take in a dirty flick–or you can step into Margie’s and think you’ve gone back in time. Except the hot fudge sundaes don’t cost 35 cents.
Margie’s is at 1960 N. Western Ave. Hours are 9 AM to 12:30 AM every day. Call 384-1035 for more information.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Jon Randolph.