A local candy shop has been recognized as one of the best in the state by a website, something Mount Airy residents and visitors have known for years.
The Best Things North Carolina website (from AmericanTowns Media based in Connecticut) named eight shops that are head and shoulders above the crowd in the Tar Heel State.
“We all have a bit of a craving for something sugary every now and then—may it be for chocolate, licorice, hard candies, gummy worms, or old-time favorites,” said the article on the website. “Whether you have the occasional need for candy or you are downright obsessed, these North Carolina candy stores are a must-see!”
Opie’s Candy Store made the cut. The confectioner’s delicatessen will reach its 13th anniversary in February, according to Cathy Quesinberry, who along with husband Freddie own the business on Main Street.
Opie’s is located next to Snappy Lunch and Floyd’s City Barber Shop, directly across the street from the Historic Earle Theatre. For the old-timers around town, the location years ago was home to a shoe repair business for decades.
“The candy store oozes Southern hospitality and stocks more than 400 fresh candy options,” stated the article. “Whether you are in search of a candy to satisfy a craving or just looking for a friendly face, stop by Opie’s Candy Store for ‘sweet treats and warm hearts.’”
“We’re different than other candy stores,” said Freddie Quesinberry, and that’s on purpose.
The 65-year-old wanted to fix the place up with a nostalgic feel like some 1950s store he knew as a small child. The interior doesn’t look new, but gives ambiance; drinks come in glass bottles, not plastic – even though plastic would be cheaper and would make the store more profit.
“When people come in, it’s like stepping back in time. … I wanted to create that atmosphere,” he said.
If people just want a bag of chocolates, they could go to Walmart for that, he noted. Rather than pre-packaged bags or boxes of candy, most everything in the store is available in one piece at a time so that folks can sample dozens if not hundreds of varieties.
While some candy comes from national companies like Jelly Belly jelly beans, Cathy noted that the apple butter and honey are from this region, coming from across the state line in Southern Virginia.
Most of the time, the Quesinberrys staff the store. Becky Hunter, who retired from the Department of Social Services, helps out a couple of days during the work week. Abigail Embry, a North Surry student, works part-time on the weekend.
A lot of tourists come to Mount Airy, said Freddie Quesinberry, and he’s met people from far and wide. He named foreign countries Canada, Australia, New Zealand and Switzerland off the top of his head. Other than North Carolina residents, the biggest state represented is probably Ohio.
The customers have been really great over the years, he said.
Once he opened a letter to find $3 inside. The accompanying letter said that while she was browsing the store, the woman sampled some candy and didn’t pay for it. She felt guilty because of what a great store it was and how nice the people were so she sent money to cover any grazing costs.
It is basically a cash store. The Quesinberrys don’t bother with credit card machines and keep an ATM in the back so folks can withdraw funds.
The store does accept personal checks. In almost 13 years of business, Freddie said he has had only one check for which he didn’t get funds.
As for showing up in the web article, Cathy Quesinberry said the website didn’t inform the store that anyone was coming to check it out. The first they knew was when someone contacted the store to let the owners know when the article came out.
“It’s a really nice honor,” she said.
Opie’s Candy Store isn’t the only area store to be honored this year.
A few months ago, Southern Living magazine compiled a list of “The South’s Most Charming General Stores.”
Named in that article was Rockford General Store, which has been in operation for 127 years.
The local landmark nestled in the historic village of Rockford in southern Surry is one of only 17 stores included, and one of just three in North Carolina. The others are Fred’s General Mercantile in Beech Mountain and Mast General Store in Valle Crucis. Floyd General Store in Floyd, Virginia, also made the list.
In listing Rockford General Store, Southern Living cites its distinction as an outlet for blackberry and sweet potato sonkers: the deep-dish fruit pies that are unique to this region. Also mentioned were its other products such as RC Colas, moon pies and fried bologna sandwiches.
Aside from those tangible treats, Carolyn Carter, a co-owner of Rockford General Store, says she believes one of the reasons for its widespread appeal is the age of the building itself.
“I think the thing about our store is it is truly authentic – it was built in 1890 and it’s still standing,” she said.
Carter pointed out that some businesses, including chain operations, operate out of new facilities that are made to look old-fashioned and quaint to the public — yet Rockford General Store is the real deal.
“You can’t build this today,” she said. “You can’t build the feeling you get when you walk through the front door.”
When customers come in, they “know they’re on old floors,” Carter added, pointing out that the same goes for some of the store’s furnishings
“There is an old stool that has been here since the 1920s,” she said of one example. “There are little treasures in this store that have been here who knows how long.”
“It has always been known as the candy store,” Carter said of its appeal in offering an array of old-time treats, among other products.
“We have generation after generation bringing their kids here,” she said. “We call this a destination for generations.“
Jeff is the news editor of The Mount Airy News and can be reached at jlinville@MtAiryNews.com.