Norwich — On the stretch of Norwich-New London Turnpike between Interstate 395 and downtown, a primary-colored beacon of hope for snack-cake lovers rises between an auto repair sign and a billboard advertising meatball subs: the Wonder Hostess Thrift Shop, with its window signs advertising three-for-$6 box cakes and 99-cent loaves of bread.
But they're out of Twinkies.
"That's the first thing people come in and ask for," said the lead clerk, who noted Friday that she was not authorized to speak on behalf of her employer. "This place has been crazy all day."
The Norwich store that sells all things Hostess was filled early Friday afternoon with shoppers emptying shelves of cakes and doughnuts and rolls as a nationwide bakers' union strike forced the 82-year-old Texas-based company to close for good.
Hostess's curtain call will leave thousands out of work and many more with nothing but nostalgia for the classic packed-lunch desserts, the most prized of bartering tools at the elementary-school cafeteria table.
If you enter "twinkie" in the Yahoo search bar, the second result after the word itself is an ominous message: "end of twinkies." A quick search on eBay calls up the image of a 10-pack box of them, with a quarter-million "buy it now" price tag.
No bids as of late Friday.
An air of finality hung about the Thrift Shop's patrons, who the clerk said are coming from as far as Plainfield and Moosup to pick the stock clean.
As of Friday afternoon, the shelves still displayed small, lonely clusters of packages of Halloween-themed Glo Balls, coated in neon-orange sugar instead of the traditional Pepto-Bismol pink of the originals. The supply of Ho-Hos was noticeably depleted. Cherry, cheese and apple danishes were in somewhat better stock.
But on one bottom shelf, the 99-cent hot dog buns had vanished.
And nowhere was there a Twinkie to be found.
Veronica Reyes of Taftville walked in the front door Friday, eyes wide with worry. "Is today the last day?" she asked, and upon learning it wasn't, "I got scared."
She came for the buns but left instead with one crisp white bag of chocolate Donettes.
Another man scanned the shelves, clutching three boxes of chocolate cupcakes — the kind with the white curlicues across the top; another filled an entire shopping cart with loaves of Wonder Bread — Classic White.
Paul Manken of Griswold held packages of English muffins and bagels next to daughter Madalynn, 19, and her boyfriend, Nick Guarneri, also 19, who clutched six boxes of cupcakes and Zingers.
"If they need some workers, they can call me," Guarneri said. "You don't have to pay me money; I just want snack cakes every day."
Employees of the Waterford Stop & Shop on Boston Post Road said they were not allowed to comment on any Hostess deficiency, so it was unclear whether they were simply out of stock as per a delivery schedule or thanks to panic-stricken snackers. One cashier said she had seen customers buying the brand's products, but "not in abundance."
Either way, the only Twinkies left were chocolate-filled — a poor substitute for the purist's white cream-filled ideal. Other items were left still standing with just a few gone — Devil Dogs, Ding Dongs, Funny Bones, Yodels. But the supply was anorexic compared with a full-to-bursting Little Debbies display of oatmeal cream pies and Zebra Cakes.
Behold the Twinkie in repose, in its natural habitat on a standalone shelf display in the CVS on Bank Street in New London later in the afternoon, swathed in plastic — the sweet, sticky junction of bleached flour, corn syrup and shortening. The favorite child of the Hostess line.
The last double-pack of prized yellow sponge cake sat tucked behind the Suzy-Qs, waiting.