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Influx of Sweets Shops Turns Upper West Side into Candy Land

Candy Land Map
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Billy Figueroa

UPPER WEST SIDE — Broadway could be the next Gumdrop Pass as an influx of sweets shops has turned the Upper West Side into a veritable Candy Land.

More than 12 sugar-centric shops have opened in the area over the past year-and-a-half, with more expected later this year. It's brought a bonanza of bonbons, cupcakes, gelato and cookies to a neighborhood once known mostly for savory foods like bagels and smoked fish.

But it's also brought concern from parents angry that the influx of calorie-laden stores has become a temptation that's sparking a lot of tantrums. One woman even made the tongue-in-cheek suggestion that the area needs "cupcake zoning laws."

"We are supposed to be leading healthier lives...Yet somehow my neighborhood became a Mecca for sugary treats, and the area is filled with land mines of empty calories," wrote Barbara Woods, a member of the West 75th Street Block Association, in an essay.

The chocolate fountain at Chocolate Works is a hit with kids. But adults can use it too at in-store events like book club meetings.
The chocolate fountain at Chocolate Works is a hit with kids. But adults can use it too at in-store events like book club meetings.
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DNAinfo/Leslie Albrecht

Though many think the candy influx is too much, some welcome the treats.

"It makes you feel good," said a beaming Ivonne Jimenez, who was with her grandson Jonathan for their weekly trip to Baked by Melissa, a new cupcake store on Broadway and West 84th Street that sells mini cupcakes that are about 50 calories each.

Jimenez said her 2-year-old grandson already has favorites at the store — the cookie dough-flavored cupcake is his top choice, and he eagerly pointed at the display case to indicate his preference.

She said the mini cupcakes are a perfect treat for her and her grandson because they're so small, "we don't have to worry about him choking [and] they don't make you feel like you're cheating."

Upper West Siders with a sweet tooth don't have to travel more than a few blocks to find several popular dessert retailers, from the cupcake chain Crumbs, which opened two new Upper West Side locations in the past six months, to Momofuku Milk Bar, home of "crack pie," which opened on Columbus Avenue late last year.

ChocoBolo, a bakery on Broadway and West 71st Street, unleashed its 11-inch "secret recipe" chocolate cake when it opened in November 2011, and Amsterdam Avenue's Insomnia Cookies made sugar lovers quake with its promise to deliver freshly baked cookies (and milk) to your door until 2:30 a.m.

Sixteen Handles frozen yogurt, which opened two locations on the Upper West Side in the last year, lets customers pour their own yogurt, then sprinkle candy on top. Chocolate Works, a store where kids can watch candy being made, opened in February on Amsterdam Avenue and West 91st Street.

And the list is still growing, as Beverly Hills-based bakery Sprinkles plans to install a 24-hour cupcake-dispensing ATM somewhere on the Upper West Side this summer and Sugar & Plumm Purveyors of Yumm opens a candy store with artisanal chocolates, baked goods and a full-service restaurant on Amsterdam Avenue and West 78th Street this summer.

The high-fructose onslaught has been met with cheers from the sweet tooth crowd, including one mom who tried to put her credit card on file at Chocolate Works so her two children could buy whatever candy they wanted whenever they wanted.

But not everyone is sweet on the deluge of desserts.

Woods told DNAinfo she'd prefer to see more "useful" businesses like hardware stores than sweets shops in her area.

She said she realized there were too many sugary stores for her taste when she invited four friends over for dinner and three of them showed up with cupcakes they had purchased on the way over.

In addition, parents say the neighborhood's sugar-coated makeover is testing their patience.

Erica Werber said she considers herself a generous mom, happy to let her 4-year-old daughter, Ella, indulge in a treat once in a while.

But lately, Ella has hit her with a non-stop barrage of requests for sweets that starts when they leave their apartment in the morning and doesn't let up until they're home for the night.

She said shops have been worsening the problem by adding kid-friendly candy bins to tempt young patrons. Much to her dismay, the Crumbs cupcake bakery next door to Ella's nursery school installed three dozen bulk candy bins about a month ago, Werber said.

"You can hear parents gasp when they come in and say, 'You've gotta be kidding me,'" said Werber.

"We work really hard to make sure our children eat the right foods. We're just trying to run basic errands like get a cup of coffee, and there's an 8-foot wall of candy. It's 8 in the morning and we're getting the ‘I wants.'"

The walk home in the evening up Amsterdam Avenue is no different, with Werber's daughter keenly aware of every sweets-selling establishment on the 20-block trek.

"They memorize pretty quickly where certain things are," Werber said. "No parent wants to say no 15 times in 15 minutes."

What's even more annoying, said Werber, is candy that pops up in unexpected venues, such as near the cash register at Make Meaning, the do-it-yourself crafting store where kids can make jewelry and paint ceramics.

"You just want to have a nice afternoon with your child, but you go to pay for your items and there's a big candy bin," Werber said. "It's just another point in the day where you’re forced to say 'no.'

"Unfortunately when you're 4 it's the worst thing that's ever happened to you that you're not getting a chocolate cupcake."

Shlomi Avdoo, owner of Chocolate Works, the new candy store on Amsterdam Avenue and West 91st Street, keeps his store stocked with every imaginable candy. Bulk bins with classic treats like red licorice line one wall, and the store also carries its own line of truffles and custom-made chocolate pieces.

Avdoo said the atmosphere is all about saying yes — within reason.

The store offers birthday parties for kids that have an educational component. Kids don't just eat the candy, they can also watch chocolate-making machines in action and make their own chocolate molds. There are also adult-friendly events like book club meetings — with a chocolate fountain — and truffle-making classes.

Avdoo said he goes out of his way to make sure he's not teaching kids to become gluttons, noting that he turned down the mother's request to keep a credit card on file so her two children could have unlimited access to candy.

"We feel like we have a little responsibility for the kids," Avdoo said. "We don't want them to over-indulge. It's like a bar. We want them to enjoy themselves, but we want them to come back."

Upper West Side food writer Laura Weiss said the confectionery boom is welcome news for the neighborhood's culinary scene.

"It's a good trend because people who are into food are recognizing that people on the Upper West Side not only shop in a huge variety of grocery stores, but they like and appreciate really good food, both salty and sweet," said Weiss, author of "Ice Cream: A Global History."

Weiss said the sugar boom could be sparked by the down economy, because a dessert treat is an affordable indulgence, Weiss said.

"You can get a terrific scoop of gelato for three or four bucks," she said.

"It sounds like a lot for ice cream, but when you stack it up against going to dinner or the theater, it's a lot cheaper."