The checkout line extended from the cash registers near the front doors very nearly to the back wall, winding like an ancient river around sales displays, as the largest candy store in New England opened with a flourish in Wiscasset on Saturday, April 1.
Located in the former home of Big Al’s Super Values at 298 Wiscasset Road (Route 1), Sweetz & More formally celebrated its arrival in the Midcoast with a grand opening celebration held over the weekend.
Owner Steven Jackson marveled at the crowds coming through his store Saturday afternoon, saying it was rewarding to see after he committed a significant investment of time and money to prepare for opening day.
At one point in the afternoon, the cashiers were processing more than five transactions a minute.
“This is my fifth store and I’ve never had this kind of turnout,” Jackson said. “I’m very pleased. It’s sort of vindication for a lot of hard work. You build it and hope they will come.”
The Wiscasset location is Jackson’s fifth store and his first outside the state of New Hampshire, where he operates locations in shopping malls in Tilton, North Conway, Merrimack, and Manchester. The Wiscasset location is Sweetz & More’s first free-standing location.
Jackson has been working in the candy business in one form or another since 1991 when he put himself through college selling baseball cards. He went on to work as a candy manufacturer’s representative for 20 years before opening his own successful distribution business in 2011.
When the COVID-19 shut down began in March 2020, Jackson pivoted to retail, opening his first store in Tilton, near his home in Holderness in 2021.
Jackson said he was familiar with Big Al’s as he vacations with his family in Boothbay Harbor every year. He was surprised and sorry to see iconic business close, but he saw a promising opportunity.
The result is the largest candy store in New England. The location offers 8,100 square feet of space, which Jackson has stocked with more than 7,800 individual products, ranging from the classic, the obscure, and the instantly familiar.
Selections include a wide variety of sugary treats including glass bottled sodas, cotton candy, gourmet jelly beans, salt water taffy, ice cream, popcorn, and candies from around the world, including selections from Europe, Japan, and Mexico.
Jackson said the months of work leading up to the grand opening were stressful but admitted he slept soundly the night before opening day.
“I felt we were ready, but I think the work is ahead of us,” he said. “It is very easy to fill a candy store when nobody is buying anything.”
The grand opening attracted a crowd as customers filled the store and cars packed the parking lot. At times spillover parking lined stretches of Route 1 outside the store and occupied spaces in parking lots of closed businesses across the road.
Despite the crowd, the mood inside the store was light as customers browsed for their favorite candies.
Done working for the day, The Maine Handyman owner Chris Cope stood in line for more than half an hour as he made way to the registers, his hands full of sweets for his family.
Cope said Sweetz & More is a welcome addition to the Wiscasset’s business landscape. The business’s prime location and the range of products could help this business become as much a landmark as the defunct Big Al’s, Cope said.
“I think it’s a great store for the town,” Cope said. “It’s right on Route 1. You don’t have to do any back roads. You just pull right in and get the kids what they need … This is wonderful. You can come in here and spend two dollars and feel better just looking at all the colors.”
Among the many people to visit the store Saturday was Big Al’s namesake, Al Cohen. Cohen said his new tenant is off to a great start and expressed confidence in the business.
“He knows what he is doing in the candy business as you can see,” Cohen said.
Cohen said he never would have thought of closing his landmark business, but circumstances related to the COVID-19 pandemic helped changed his mind. He shuttered Big Al’s in January 2022 after 35 years in operation.
“Timing is everything and it was the right time to pull the plug,” Cohen said. “Before COVID I never would have done it, but I was very short on labor afterwards.”
Cohen said he was always willing to lease the space but he wanted the right client, one that would add to Wiscasset’s business community, and he was willing to wait. Sweetz & More fit the bill, he said.
“It’s the right thing for the town,” Cohen said. “I was offered other businesses that I turned down. We didn’t need the biggest pot store in Maine. We didn’t need another Chapter 11 furniture store. We didn’t need another brew pub, and all these different businesses wanted to come in, but I was waiting for one I felt was good for the town. This is a destination. The town needs another destination.”
The Wiscasset Sweetz & More is open seven days a week from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. For more information about the Wiscasset location, call 687-8226.
For more information about the company, go to sweetzandmore.com or find the business on Facebook.