Places that Matter

Philip's Candy (former)

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Martha Cooper
Martha Cooper
Martha Cooper
Hazel Hankin
Martha Cooper
Until 2001, a handmade candy shop in Coney Island
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Place Matters Profile

Until it closed in 2001, Philip's Candy was the last saltwater taffy maker in New York City and oldest candy store in Coney Island. Opened in 1917, it was beloved by generations of tourists and locals alike as a wonderful source for homemade candy as well as a warm and welcoming spot.

Philip Calamaris first opened Philip's Candy on the Coney Island boardwalk, at the time a bustling entertainment center with three amusement parks. In the 1930s he moved the store to the subway station on Surf Avenue (the subway had been extended to Coney Island in 1920), where it remained virtually unchanged for the next 60-plus years.

In 1947, John Dorman, a 17-year-old Staten Island native, began working at the store, which at the time mostly sold saltwater taffy and popcorn. In 1956, he was able to purchase the store, which he later jointly owned with Margaret Cohn, who also started as an employee. During Dorman's time the store made its own fudge, candy apples, cotton candy and marzipan, as well as other types of candies. They were most famous, however, for their saltwater taffy, which is not made with seawater, but made "near the ocean," according to Dorman. All these treats were made and sold in a distinctive red storefront with a host of tempting signs and a walk-up window (the only access to the sweet-smelling interior).

Throughout the years, despite changes in the surrounding community, including the closure of many of the older amusement parks, Philip's remained a constant. In 1988, however, the MTA issued eviction notices to Dorman and other commercial tenants in the station because of planned renovations. Others left, but Dorman successfully fought the eviction for a number of years--ultimately becoming the only store in the station. By 2001 the MTA was finally ready to begin renovations to the station and Dorman decided to retire and close the store rather than moving to another location.

Sources:

Christian, Nichole M. "Pullying Coney Island's Sweet Tooth: As a Landmark Candy Shop Closes, Even Diabetics Mourn." New York Times, April 6, 2001, Metro Section.

Dorman, John. Interview by Elena Martinez for Place Matters. January, 29, 2000.

Farrell, Bill. "Coney Subway Work is Good and Bad News." Daily News, January 19, 2001.

Martin, Douglas. "The Sugar Fix at the End of the Line." New York Times, January 7, 1996.