Zelienople candy shop offers a chance to take a step back in time

| Wednesday, July 10, 2013, 9:00 p.m.

Since 1933, Baldinger's Foods from all Nations has catered to generations of candy lovers.

And Betty Sabo, former manager, has shared 61 years of connecting sugar and smiles.

Few who shop at the Zelienople store have the will power to come out empty handed. While shelves, bins, boxes and cartons contain candy, they also hold flashes of memories from childhood. Name the candy of your younger years, and Sabo can point you to it.

“Mrs. B. loved the kids,” Sabo, 85, remembered. “When they came in, she'd give them a big bag of junk toys. Then, she used to give every kid a stuffed Snoopy.”

It was always Dorothy Baldinger's dream to own a business, so on 10 acres of family land, she built a fruit stand and sold products from local farmers. Soon, she added honey to the mix. In 10 or 15 years, candy and imported food items were the focus.

“We had bulk candy in boxes, open cases and barrels,” said Sabo of Zelienople. “We sold maple syrup, loose sauerkraut, honey and dill pickles.”

They also offered smoked hams, sausages and bacon as well as homemade pies. On the more exotic side, they sold canned alligator meat, lamb's tongue, pig's feet and ham hocks.

If customers desired an item from a foreign country, Baldinger wrote the consul general to find out how to stock her shelves. As her connections grew, so did her inventory.

Jan Kreuer, 67, of Zelienople, still shops at Baldinger's.

“It's the environment and the history I have with the store,” she said. “They have a lot of things that a Giant Eagle doesn't have.”

A baker, Kreuer browsed the large collection of cookie cutters. Baldinger's also offers colored sugar sprinkles to top the treats fresh from the oven.

Her daughter, Jill Kreuer, 41, brought her son, Ben Schusser, 6, when they visited from their home in Vienna, Austria.

“Gummy is king,” said Kreuer, of her son's favorite sweet.

Jennifer Bornes, 37, of Zelienople, recalled her family's trips to Pymatuning State Park when she was a child.

“On our way to Pymatuning, we'd stop here,” she said.

Now, she and her daughters, Rachel, 4, and Melanie, 6, live within walking distance.

Melanie's eyes lit up when she saw the tiny mint chocolate chips.

“It's nice to be so close,” her mother said.

Laura McKeever brought her sons, Ian, 12, Jimmy, 7, and Johnny, 10, in to shop while they were visiting their grandmother Janice McKeever. Even a trip from California wouldn't be complete without a trip to the candy store.

Sabo has watched some of the favorite candies move in and out of popularity.

“The red Mexican Hats are now Fiesta Hats,” she said. “Jujyfruits and Jujube candies were brought back, but the gourmet and anise mints are gone.”

Clove, Beemans and Black Jack chewing gums have made a return, along with candy buttons. Amazingly, candy cigarettes still are sold but in generic-looking packs.

Pat Boylan, the new owner, took great pride in making the new location look much like the old one, including the butcher block table and the antique register that is 140 to 145 years old. Boylan requested Sabo stay on and manage. Today, that task is handled by Jean Zajacs.

While Baldinger's focus on penny candy has shifted, customers can still buy in bulk and get a great deal on treats from their past. What keeps the store going?

“The merchandise and the help,” said Sabo. “We have customers from all over the world.”

Dona S. Dreeland is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-772-6353 or ddreeland@tribweb.com.

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