Anyone who grew up in Grand Forks, or East Grand Forks, knows about Widman’s Candy Shop. It’s located on South Third Street on the west side of the Red River, just across the railroad tracks from the old Metropolitan Opera House, soon to be the site of Rhombus Guys’ microbrewery.
But a lot people don’t know that’s not where Widman’s got its start. I grew up in Crookston, Minn., where the Widman family has been selling candy for more than 100 years. Candy was in the family’s blood even before that.
William Widman, father of George, who opened the Crookston store in 1911, Operated the New York Bakery and Candy Shop in Dubuque, Iowa, in 1885 and later worked for Pearson’s Candy Co. in St. Paul, known for its salted nut rolls and mint patties.
As a kid, I remember going into Widman’s all the time, whether it was after a morning of Park Board baseball in Central Park or an afternoon of swimming in the municipal pool.
Besides all of the wonderful candy, there were also malts from the soda fountain (it all wouldn’t fit in a glass, so you were given the rest of it in the metal mixing container) along with cherry, lime and chocolate Cokes (my brother Kevin’s favorite).
And a great selections of magazines, including The Sporting News and Hockey News, a must for a sports-crazy kid like me. (Back then, there weren’t the chocolate-covered potato chips called Chippers, a favorite of many these days.)
At that time, Margaret Widman, the daughter of George and Clara, did most of the heavy lifting at the candy shop. But I remember the diminutive George and Clara still working there a bit. And I fondly recall the quaint couple walking down the aisle arm-in-arm at Sunday morning Mass at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception Catholic Church. (Now, Widman’s in Crookston is run by George Widman III, and his wife, Lois. George’s dad, George II, founder of the Grand Forks shop, still lives in Grand Forks.)
The Crookston business is one of four candy shops in the running for “Where is Minnesota’s Best Candy Shop” contest (http://minnesota.cbslocal.com/2015/02/05/vote-wheres-the-best-candy-shop-in-minnesota/) of WCCO Radio in the Twins Cities. The winner will be announced later this week, just before Valentine’s Day.
The contest is a hot item on Facebook. A closed group site (invitation only) called Crookston Connection is abuzz about the contest. Hundreds of comments have been filed, many from people I know and grew up with in the small town of about 8,000 people.
Norma Degnan wrote that every Christmas, she would buy more than a dozen candy canes from Margaret to put on the tree her dad would frost in their basement.
And Matt Baab, whose dad (Bob Baab or “Doc”) was my high school baseball coach, said he was a true regular at Widman’s from fourth to eighth grade due to having a paper route, “which put me on that block to pick up my papers at the (Crookston) Times on the corner. I soooo hated the routine of going to Widman’s for a strawberry soda and red hots and reading a comic book in a booth!”
Perhaps Mike DuVal, an old Cathedral school friend summed it up best about Widman’s, when he commented, “It’s great to know that really unique places we all enjoyed still exist and never seem better.”
I’ll second that, Mike!