The Fort Collins Candy Emporium is a powerfully nostalgic treat.
Tony Vallejos’ Old Town candy shop is making grown ups sob. Recently, a woman welled-up with tears when she saw the Dentyne gum from her childhood—the same gum her late aunt always pulled from her purse.
“So I gave her this pack of gum for free, to have in her purse, to always remember her aunt. She started crying harder,” Vallejos says. “Things like that happen a lot here.”
Vallejos, 58, opened the Fort Collins Candy Emporium in September 2018 after shedding his longtime interior design career. Decked in round glasses, a classic bow tie, handlebar ’stache and shopkeeper apron, the San Francisco transplant flits enthusiastically around his 1940s-era shop among Mallo Cups, Boston Baked Beans, Pop Rocks, giant jawbreakers, Laffy Taffy, GooGoos, Cherry Mash, Red Hots, Charleston Chews and ever-popular candy cigarettes.
The nostalgia is tangible and the vibe hypnotizing. Black-and-white Mickey Mouse cartoons play on TV while 1930s music croons over the hard-to-find candies and Vallejos’ impressive antique toy collection.
As a child, Vallejos confesses, he was more into flea markets than baseball games. A few years ago, his partner passed away. “That’s when I surrendered to the universe,” he says. He started Googling images of 1940s general stores, building his Americana vision brick by brick, jar by jar. His love of President Roosevelt’s Works Progress Administration, the thousands of artists it employed and the subsequent hard-laboring-American murals that came about spurred his affinity for the 1940s.
He first opened his emporium in Cheyenne in 2017, where he had attended kindergarten and first grade, moving the store to Fort Collins a year later, declaring it a better fit. Old Town is welcoming Vallejos’ dream with open arms, gobbling up local favorites like five-inch double-sided chocolate gold coins and candy-then-gum Razzles. Vallejos runs the shop solo, eliciting memories of special times and collecting stories of nostalgic customers, like the seven-foot-tall mountain man streaming tears while the shop Victrola played Bing Crosby’s “I’ll Be Home For Christmas.” That day, like many days at the Fort Collins Candy Emporium, everyone left hugging.