Shop sells sweet, spooky treats

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IV pouches of red syrup blood, plastic bags of gummy brains and paper boxes of dried crickets covered in chocolate are just a few of the horrifying sugary candies South Congress’ Big Top Candy Shop has to offer for Halloween.

While this wicked holiday has become a drunken night of preposterous costumes for college students, the childhood appeal — and how we all probably first remember it — is trick-or-treating for candy. Candy is as ubiquitous to Halloween as witches, ghosts, scarecrows and pumpkins.

Every inch of this little sideshow freaks-themed candy shop is overloaded with sugar — the store swells with the scent of sweet licorice and chocolate. From 48 gold containers of saltwater taffy in flavors such as caramel apple, buttered popcorn and maple, to a glass display holding the store’s famous chocolate covered bacon, Big Top Candy Shop has nearly every kind of candy imagined. After all, there are nearly 400 bins of bulk candy.

Despite the shop’s abundance of candy, owner Brandon Hodge said they only carry a limited amount of Halloween candy, an arm’s length of a section to be exact. As a small business, Big Top Candy Shop can’t afford to go overboard and end up with a lot of leftovers, he said.

“We’re not a big supermarket chain so we can’t just toss that stuff out,” Hodge said.

Luckily, there’s a lot of local support that comes in and buys Big Top’s candy for Halloween, Hodge said, and not a lot of them come in and get just Halloween candy.

“If they want to get a certain color combination of taffy, they can do that,” Hodge said. “If they are [an] atomic fireballs lover and they decide they want all the kids in the neighborhood to burn their tongues off, they can do that.”

Specially for Halloween, Hodge ordered candy corn saltwater taffy from the candy’s manufacturer in St. Louis. Among the stomach-turning real insect candies and sugar replicas of rats and body parts are normal Halloween festive candies, which include chocolate-covered pumpkin seeds, Mello Cream Pumpkins and candy corn-flavored Dots. As Halloween draws closer, though, more Halloween candy is disappearing. As of Wednesday afternoon, only a handful of candy corn and candy corn-flavored saltwater taffy were left.

While Big Top Candy Shop is the ideal candy store to turn to for Halloween, it is a lot more than that. Its quirky, small business concept echoes what Austin — specifically South Congress — is all about.

Three years before Hodge opened Big Top Candy Shop, he was managing his toy store, Monkey See, Monkey Do, which is a few doors down from the candy store. One day, he thought about what kind of business would really benefit South Congress.

“I did a lot of traveling around other areas and just had a conception that a candy store and a place to get a nice cold drink and a scoop [of] ice cream would be really popular for South Congress, locals and tourists,” Hodge said. “So we did it and here we are.”

Embracing the over the top, flamboyant yet freakish nature of the circus, the front-to-back, floor-to-ceiling decorations, all put together by Hodge, consist of reproduced cloth posters of circus freaks such as Snake Boy, Gorilla Girl, Fee Gee Mermaid and bizarre instruments such as a one-man-band tuba and a pneumatic guitar hung on a wall. A lot of the decorations were found at flea markets or given to him, he said.

Despite owning a candy store, Hodge surprisingly does not eat a lot of candy. But he does have his favorite, Sixlets, which are small, round chocolate-covered candy, like M&M’s. For Hodge, eating Sixlets takes him back to his childhood summer days in Southeast Texas. There was a “shack of a convenient store” near the neighborhood swimming pool, where Hodge would go and buy two tubes of Sixlets and a Big Red soda. He would eat one tube, drink the soda, eat the second, get back into the water and swim the rest of the day.

“Everybody’s favorite is always going to be something that’s more than just flavor and taste. It’s nostalgia and memory,” he said. “I’m really a kid at heart. I swear I’ll never grow up.”