When I was six years old, my dream was to work in a candy store. I’m pretty sure it’s a dream shared by many kids around the world. My plan ended right after my dad explained to naïve little me that even those who work in a candy store have to pay for the candy. What’s the point, then? Shortly after this frustrating discovery, I switched to dreams of becoming a Hollywood actress.
But even several decades later, I can’t help but envy those lucky, lucky people who get to be surrounded by colorful candy wrappers, listen to the sound of soda hitting glass, and inhale aromas of chocolate and freshly-baked cookies all day long.
Brandon Hodge, owner of Big Top Candy Shop on South Congress Avenue, is probably every kid’s role model, and every adult’s reminder of unrealized dreams. For the past decade, this man has been uncovering the most unique candies all over the country and the world, and transporting them to Austin.
Big Top Candy Shop Renovates After 10 Years
Last month, Big Top Candy Shop celebrated its 10-year anniversary by revealing renovations that added 400-square-feet to an already unusually large space–for a candy store. The expansion was made possible by blowing up a wall in the back of the shop and remodeling a former storage room into retail space.
Another important part of the new look: pharmacy-style cabinets, made of mahogany wood by Hodge himself. In the beginning of the 20th century, there were not many candy shops. Instead, candy was sold in pharmacies. Hodge nostalgically emulated the look of a turn-of-the-century pharmacy in his own business.
The owner shared that the store was originally built by him and his father, with the help of a carpenter. Fast forward a decade, and the renovations were done by the same team to match the preexisting architecture. In fact, when I arrived to Big Top Candy Shop for my interview, Hodge emerged from under the counter with his sleeves rolled up. The month of October 2017 was all about construction, leaving the owner of this Austin icon covered in sawdust and paint.
Along with building new furniture for the shop, Hodge repurposes antique decorations and equipment–many of which come from his personal collection–to give Big Top a more vintage look. The scales, soda fountain equipment, and candy cigarette machine you’ll find inside Big Top are all original.
Crossroads Between a Pharmacy and a Circus
If the vintage pharmacy look isn’t cool enough on its own, Hodge has retained the memorable circus elements that have always been part of Big Top. Drawing inspiration from dime museums and circus shows, with their freak specimens, malformed human fetuses, and exotic animals, Hodge finds unique and at times terrifying decor for his store. The Fiji mermaid alone–a mummified body comprised of the torso and head of a monkey sewn to the back half of a fish–might provoke nightmares in the most courageous of adults, let alone kids. There’s one Fiji mermaid on display right now, and two larger ones will be added soon.
Now imagine if you could not only look at one of these abnormalities hanging on the wall, but actually buy one and have a taste of it? As a throwback to circus sideshows, Hodge is planning to make chocolate versions of some of the most famous sideshow gaffs, like malformed animal fetuses, and preserve them in jars of olive oil. So in case you want to have a bite of a two-headed giraffe, you know where to get one.
New Candy, New Soda, No More Lines
If you’re more of a fan of regular candies that don’t look like fetuses, then there’s good news for you. With the addition of 400-square-feet, Hodge can now supply almost 200 new varieties of bulk candy. A new counter in the back of the shop features specialty chocolate items, fudge, and cookies baked by Hayley Cakes and Cookies–a small local business.
Apart from new confections, Big Top is adding over a hundred bottled soda selections, as well as a new marble top soda fountain. Typically, candy shops have either one or another. Big Top gives customers an opportunity to choose between bottled classics like Nesbitt’s, Dr. Pepper with pure cane sugar, and Dad’s Root Beer, or sodas made from scratch at the counter.
If you’ve ever been to Big Top, especially on the weekend, you know that standing in queue with other candy lovers has become part of experience. Hodge explained that even with incredible crew members at work, it used to be physically impossible to serve so many people quickly. After remodeling the space, two more cash registers were added. Voila! Lines no more.
With so many new and exciting things coming to Big Top, it’s hard to believe Brandon Hodge was struggling to fill the space of his newly-built store 10 years ago. “When we first opened, there were very few candy shops that were this large. There was not enough candy to fill the space…I never thought we would reach a day when we would need more space.”
While Hodge was busy woodworking in the back of his shop, regulars started noticing the changes in their beloved sweets shop. Hodge admits he didn’t expect the reaction the renovations caused.
“I didn’t know what I expected. I sort of emerged from the woodwork and started bringing things into the shop. I honestly didn’t think anyone was going to notice. But every 5-10 minutes, I hear, ‘Oh my God! Look what you’ve done back here. This is amazing!’ I am so grateful. It feels good to have the hard work recognized. But it’s even better to know that [customers] know the store well enough to notice the change, and that to me is much more satisfying!”
1706 S. Congress Ave. – Website
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