Every other week, Gwyn McAllister visits with an Island merchant, and asks them how they got here, why they do what they do, and the ups and downs of their job.
The weeks before Valentine’s Day are a great time to wander around a candy shop, reliving sweet, confectionate memories from your past. The Good Ship Lollipop on Circuit Ave in Oak Bluffs offers another boost to childhood memories with its large selection of retro candy – everything from licorice pipes, Mary Janes and Teaberry gum to Necco wafers, Bit-o-Honey, Pixie Sticks, Mary Janes and so much more.
In addition, owner Marguerite Cook dips her own chocolate – over 100 varieties including chocolate pops in every imaginable shape – and also offers dozens of organic, vegan, gluten free and sugar free varieties from Divine Treasures in Connecticut. The packed to the rafters shop also carries stuffed animals, toys and puzzles, infant toys, souvenirs, holiday decorations and even a small collection of rocks and minerals in one corner.
We spoke to Ms. Cook, a native of Braintree and the former tax collector in Oak Bluffs, recently about her history with the Vineyard and the shop and found out that, among other things, the business was inspired, not surprisingly, by a lollipop; dipping chocolates is a passion as much as a business for Ms. Cook (I’d still want to do it even if it wasn’t a job) and, believe it or not, selling candy has more in common with tax collecting than you might think possible.
How did you get to the Vineyard?
“I first came in 1968. I had two very good friends who lived in my neighborhood who both got jobs at the MV Hospital. I came to help them get set up in a house here. I walked up one side of Circuit Ave and the other and got a job as an accountant. Then I got a job working on a fundraising campaign for the hospital.”
At the end of 1969 Ms. Cook left the Island to get married to her husband David Cook, an Island native who was entering the military. Their first daughter was born while he was away in the army. Upon returning, Mr. Cook got a job with the Post Office on the Vineyard and Ms. Cook worked variously at the old laundromat and the Corner Store. In 1980 she starting working for the town of Oak Bluffs, a career she pursued until 2003, working variously as treasurer and then tax collector
What motivated you to start your business?
Ms. Cook had been retired from the town for a few years looking for something else to do. It was a picture of her mother that Ms. Cook discovered while closing up her parent’s home that inspired her to open a candy shop. “In the picture, my mother is holding a baby doll and a big swirly lollipop.” That image, combined with comments from former business associates hat there was no where to buy candy in the neighborhood that gave her the idea to open the shop.
How did you get your start?
“I started out in Vineyard Haven, next to Calico Sue as an old fashioned candy store. I carried some toys and souvenirs. I was there for one summer, then moved into a slot they had cordoned off in the laundromat and stayed there until the end of that summer. Mr. Stacy, who owned Hilliard’s, came to me and asked if I wanted to move my candy store to where to the old Hilliard’s was. The deal came with a temporary loan of the kettles and Brenda Mastromonaco [a Hilliard family member] to teach me how to make chocolates. She still works for me to this day. She taught me everything I know about making chocolates.”
What’s so special about your job?
“I absolutely love it. It doesn’t matter who comes in the door, they walk out with a smile on their face. It’s just a wonderful experience. I get lot of kids from a few months to 102. It’s wonderful because even people who haven’t been in the store, when they come in for the first time they are amazed. They’re a kid in a candy store. They start naming off all the different candies they had when they were kids.”
What’s the most challenging thing about running a business on the Vineyard?
“Getting your product in. My chocolate is flown in from Pennsylvania. It comes in a day or a day and a half. We go through a lot of chocolate. But being here it’s sometimes hard for people to get things to us in a timely fashion.”
What makes owning a business on the Vineyard special?
“Some people who come in have never been to the Vineyard before. They’re really surprised to see a candy store here. The kids who come each summer can’t wait to come back to the store. It’s a destination for the kids. People let me know in advance that they’re grandkids are coming. Everybody has stories.”
Any particularly memorable days?
“A woman named Mary Fisher was celebrating her 100th birthday in Windemere. She used to make chocolates when she was a little girl in Edgartown. They asked her what she wanted to do for her 100th and she said she wanted to dip chocolates. Brenda [Mastromonaco ] and I went over with a tempering kettle, some marshmallows and pieces of mint and let her dip chocolates. She said, ‘With my hands so crooked I don’t know if I can dip them.’ I told her, ‘We use utensils now and you should be able to.’ She had the best time dipping chocolates. Four other residents asked if they could also dip. One woman was blind and another had Parkinson’s. We helped them and we all laughed a lot. By the time we were through we had enough to feed all the hospital staff — from acute care to accounting — and all the staff and residents in Windemere.”
Any interesting customers?
“The granddaughter of the man who invented Turkish Taffy came in and saw the candy. It had disappeared [from distribution] for approximately 35 years. Her grandfather hadn’t copyrighted it. She was shocked when she saw it. She didn’t know that it had come back.”
What’s your favorite off Island trip?
“My husband and I go and pick up a lot of the candy ourselves. We make a trip every few weeks in the summer. We go first to Bridgewater to get salt water taffy, ribbon candy and sponge candy at a little shop there. It’s a wonderful place to go and watch them make the taffy. From there we go to New Hampshire and back down to Lowell, East Boston, Cambridge and a few others. I do love to go but my husband usually does it now.”
What do you find most fulfilling about your job?
“I like to help people. As much as people say, ‘You were a tax collector? How could you do that?’ — I loved my job because I was able to help people. If they didn’t have what they needed, they went on a payment plan. If you work with people that way, they leave happy. People sometimes come into the store and say, ‘I know you. You helped my grandmother.’”
Which is your favorite Island town?
“I have to say Oak Bluffs because when I first moved to the Vineyard it was just so much fun to be here. It was called the honky tonk town then and it still is today. It’s always hopping. Its always moving.”
Anything you dream about doing in life?
“The last thing on my bucket list is to go to Italy. My family is Italian. Most of my brothers and sister’s have gone.”
What is your motto?
“Life is short so you have to enjoy it while you can.”