Mrs. Shabazz's Candy Store
Next to a few prolific fruit trees in a neighborhood orchard on Central Avenue sits a small, white gem of a house on the edge of old Herron-Morton Place which has become my new favorite “best-kept city secret” . . . Mrs. Shabazz’s combination health food and candy store. Next to rows of vitamins, herbs, organic fruit bars and local raw honey are tall glass jars of candy. Children come in every afternoon, sit quietly on the floor (good manners are required) and patiently wait their turn to choose and re-choose from the selection of nostalgic favorites from our elementary school days like lemon drops, Now-n-Later, and Tootsie Pops. There are 2 cent and 5 cent candies, fancy 25 cent treats and even a dollar candy bar or two. Mrs. Shabazz makes all children ask politely for their candy and count out their own money and change. “I realized a lot of the children didn’t have basic math skills,” she said. And so she found a wonderful way to teach them.
Since the 1970s, the gentle and gracious Mrs. Shabazz has opened her doors to the neighborhood. She and her husband tend the fruit trees in the lot next to their home, and inexpensive bags of cherries and apples also make their way onto the shelves in season. Neighbors can pick up fresh local produce, and occasionally “some children will choose an apple instead of candy.” Mrs. Shabazz is a registered nurse who cares deeply about the health of her community, even spending 3 years as the school nurse for the Project School when it was located in her neighborhood. I have a friend whose daughter would often feign illness just to sit with Mrs. Shabazz, a lover of natural medicine who often used massage, herbs and essential oils to treat her little patients. But, Mrs. Shabazz wants so much more than physical health for her neighborhood.
Small, local, family owned businesses may be one of Indianapolis’s most valuable resources. In this morning’s We are City briefing, Laura Holzman writes about loneliness as a public policy concern. She questions whether the “pre-fab placelessness” of big box chain stores might actually encourage isolation by preventing a “unique connection to the specific place where they appeared.” What if places like “Mrs. Shabazz’s Candy Store,” as it is affectionately known in the neighborhood, are more than just a community gathering spot. In their real connection to place, what if they create an identity that helps neighbors connect not just to each other, but to the actual, physical place where they live?
I know that I just fell a little bit more in love with this sweet city. Our staff and interns (including singer-songwriter Paul Smallman who came back and wrote his latest city-song “Find Your Way” after our trip) visited Mrs. Shabazz with three dollars between the nine of us, which allowed us each to pick something for ourselves and then have enough left over to fill up a little brown paper bag to share back at the office. We picked a few bright red sour cherries on our way out . . . something healthy to balance out the sugar . . . and we felt again like we live in a really special place.