Like a Kid in a Candy Store

WORDS Marla Cantrell
IMAGES Jade Graves Photography

Sep 1, 2023 | Featured, People

Amy Gibbons wears a T-shirt emblazoned with the name of her candy store, Garrison Goodies. She stands in a halo of light that rushes into her business from just outside her doors at 317 Garrison Avenue, in downtown Fort Smith. Above her is the original 1895 tin ceiling. Exposed brick, also more than a century old, makes up the walls where bins of bright Now and Later squares sit next to bottles of Mermaid Lip Gloss Candy and pastel candy necklaces, made of sugary disks looped through a piece of elastic string. There are even candy cigarettes, Lord help us, that many of us remember posing with, movie-star style, back when stars puffed out tobacco smoke as innocently as if they were sipping a Coca-Cola.

A necklace made of sugar. Cigarettes made of sugar. A stick or two of Laffy Taffy in our pockets. Mention these things, and entire generations recall what it was like to grow up with the kind of freedom that kept us on our bikes with our friends until our parents called us in as evening fell. It reminds us of treehouses and televisions with only three channels. It reminds us of the thrill of penny candy. We got it as a treat or bought it with our weekly allowances, often no more than twenty-five cents for seven days of behaving more or less like a civilized person.

Ask what it feels like to own Garrison Goodies, and Amy laughs. “I can tell you what my husband thinks. He says he’s like a kid in a candy store,” she says, the truth of it so obviously joyful. This place is fun and nostalgic, and sweet. It is also much different than Amy’s other business, Anderson’s Discount Pharmacy, which is on Lexington Avenue, not so very far from here.

Amy moved to Fort Smith from the little town of Mulberry in Crawford County when she was only six years old. Her father opened Anderson’s Discount Pharmacy, and the family roots pushed deep into the Fort Smith soil. In 2002, she bought the pharmacy, securing the family business for the next generation.

“When we first opened the pharmacy in 1987, we were open from eight in the morning until midnight. So I grew up in a really hard-working, entrepreneurial family,” Amy says.

Amy had a vision of an old-time candy store, and she knew just where it belonged. She’d been to other downtowns with lots of foot traffic. She’d go into their candy shops, see what products they were carrying. She’d notice the happiness on customers’ faces.

“I wanted to open something kid-friendly, and I wanted to be on this end of Garrison—we’re close to restaurants and Creative Kitchen. It’s worked out. Often the wife will go into Creative Kitchen, and the husband gets dropped off here.”

Already, she knew what it was like to run a successful business. Anderson’s Pharmacy is a staple in town. And she knew that hiring friendly, talented people would secure her spot on Garrison Avenue. Sure, she’d be busy, but Amy thrives in busyness. Like the year, almost a decade and a half ago, when she delivered her daughter in January, and that same December, her twin sons. The three bundles of joy complete the family she shares with her husband, Dr. Greg Gibbons, who practices in Fort Smith.

In 2020, Amy started looking in earnest for the perfect place. On September 23, 2022, she opened the doors to Garrison Goodies. Today, approximately 1,000 individual items are in the store, from pickle-flavored cotton candy to truffles handcrafted in Vermont to homemade fudge. There’s the trendy freeze-dried candy—like Jolly Ranchers and Gummy Bears—and candy-coated grapes, made on-site. You can also order a custom birthday cake, and they’ll have it ready the same day. Garrison Goodies also makes candy bouquets, and bakes cookies, cupcakes, cake balls, cheesecake cups, and pretzel rods.

What would autumn be without a candied or caramel apple? Garrison Goodies has those on the weekends, plus, for the fall, a cheesecake-stuffed apple, and a candy charcuterie board that’s sure to be a hit at Halloween.

Amy looks across the globe for products that surprise and delight. Like Milka Chocolate Bars from Germany and England, treats from Belgium, and chips and candy from as far away as Japan, Thailand, and China. While it’s all a hit, there’s something about the old standards.

“When we first opened, parents would come in to show their kids the candy they loved as a child. Like Zots [a hard candy shell filled with a baking soda combination that fizzes when you take a bite], Sixlets [candy-coated chocolate balls], and Beemans licorice gum [from the nineteenth century]. We even carry the Nicco Wafers [thin disks of sugary candies, both in assorted flavors and chocolate, that first appeared in 1847].

“I love Friday afternoons because that’s when schoolkids come in for their treats. The holidays are busy—a lot of people remember the old ribbon candy, so we carry that. We have sixty-five percent repeat customers—who come in and get the same thing every time. We have customers who can’t find the candy they want anywhere, so we’ll order it for them.”

More and more, she’s greeting those from nearby Oklahoma and tourists from across the country. She’s seen an uptick since the US Marshals Museum opened at 14 North Third Street, in July. Often, tour buses stop by, or church buses, like the one from Goddard United Methodist. That group really liked the Nicco Wafers and lemon drops. The store swells with first-time customers if there’s a convention in town or a music festival, like the recent Peacemaker Festival.

On Friday and Saturday, Garrison Goodies stays open until ten at night, and a whole different crowd shows up. Couples on dates, friends who gather to listen to live music at the Bricktown Brewery or La Huerta Mexican Restaurant, and those who are downtown for a little nightlife. Often, customers waiting their turn to get a tattoo at a nearby shop come by, filling a few eager minutes. The one common denominator? Everyone who stops by has a sweet tooth.

Amy uses every inch of this building. Upstairs she has a party room for rent. In recent weeks, lots of local kids celebrated their birthdays with candy and a slime-making party. Ever been to a slime-making party? Let’s just say it’s much better if you don’t have it in your home.

When Amy came up with the idea of Garrison Goodies, she wanted to be a bigger part of the community. This is where her family is, her friends, and longtime customers from Anderson’s Pharmacy. Her goal was to open a happy place. She’s been thrilled by the response she’s gotten.

It will also be part of her family’s legacy. Her three children are teens now, and each is autistic. “With Garrison Goodies, I wanted a place where my kids could work one day. And we love accommodating kiddos with special needs by ordering their favorite candies. I understand the importance of a specific goody because of my kiddos.”

Amy’s face softens as she talks about the children that populate her days and her heart. In the background are the sounds of two tweens sharing the treasures they’ve discovered in this one-of-a-kind store.

It’s a whirlwind of a life but one that Amy adores. She spends six days a week either at Anderson’s Pharmacy or Garrison Goodies and takes one day off to recover. But even then, her mind is swirling with ideas for her next big adventure. Who’s to say what it will be? But whatever it is, it’s sure to be another sweet surprise.

Garrison Goodies, located at 317 Garrison Avenue in Fort Smith, celebrates their first anniversary this September. Follow them on social media to find out about their upcoming celebration! Call the shop at 479.222.6851 or visit online at garrisongoodies.com.

Do South Magazine

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