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East Lyme - Ice cream and candy make people happy.
There's no doubt about that as far as Melinda Graus, owner of Gumdrops & Lollipops at 334 Main St. in Niantic, is concerned.
Visitors smile when they see the old-fashioned candy like Atomic Fireballs, Pixy Stix, Wax Bottles and Mary Janes at Graus' shop, she said. And they smile wider when they see the slabs of fudge, whoopee pies, eclairs, brownies, cupcakes and pies. And they break into a very wide grin when they approach the ice cream counter, where multiple flavors of both scooped and soft-serve ice cream are served.
"The whole idea is for people to come in and have fun and enjoy," said Graus, who has operated Gumdrops & Lollipops for eight years, and after buying the property that she initially leased last year has expanded the size of the business and its offerings.
There are burgers and hot dogs, clam fritters and French fries, and chili and salads now, as well as indoor seating, an outdoor deck, and a wrap-around porch with more chairs.
"We wanted to make the place inviting," said Graus, a real estate agent who decided in 2008, when property sales lagged with the Great Recession, that she needed a professional change of scenery.
Her husband, Harry Graus, is a builder, and like real estate, his trade suffered in the recession.
"Real estate and building, they were both going downhill, and I just needed to be in a good place. I wanted to do something on a positive note," said Graus, explaining she woke up one morning and told her husband she was going to open a candy store.
"He said, 'You're nuts,'" she recalls.
But nuts are only in her confections now. Encouraged by friends and family, Graus opened Gumdrops & Lollipops in October 2008, selling candy and fudge, and the following spring added ice cream.
After leasing the space for seven years, she bought the building last year and, with the necessary permits and approvals, her husband built the addition she had envisioned.
Now, inside the shop where Beach Boys, Frankie Valli and other tunes from the 1950s and '60s are playing, customers can sit at round chrome tables with red vinyl chairs in the retro pink-and-green-striped dining room. Customers can order inside at two different counters - one for food and ice cream and the other for candy and fudge - or at a walk-up window outside. Located along Niantic's Main Street at the entrance to Hole In The Wall Beach, Graus said her business mostly attracts locals. Town officials and townspeople have been overwhelmingly supportive, she said.
With the expansion, Graus employs 19 workers, including full and part-time. And said while summertime is busiest, the shop is open year-round, with customers coming in for a meal or treat, and others hiring her to set up candy stations at weddings or birthday parties.
Graus is still working in real estate, which she enjoys, but said her real pleasure is Gumdrops & Lollipops, where everyone always seems to be happy.
"One little girl came in, and she said, 'This is exactly what I pictured heaven to look like,'" said Graus.
Senior citizens enjoy the shop, too, especially when they inspect the tubs and bins of nostalgic candy, she said.
"I loved candy stores ever since I was a kid," she said, explaining how she finally decided to open one of her own.
"I was just at a place where I needed a positive vibe, I needed a place to go every day that makes me happy."
What: Gumdrops & Lollipops
Who: Melinda Graus
Where: 334 Main St., Niantic
Phone: (860) 739-7800