Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Two Generations Recall Barton’s Bonbonniere in Rego Park

Barton's Bonbonniere during the Blizzard of 1969

Barton's Bonbonniere's Art Deco interior circa late 1960s
By Michael Perlman

Decades ago, Rego Park was known for its Art Deco and Mid-Century Modern mom and pop shops with attractive window displays. Among them was a branch of Barton’s Bonbonniere at 97-19 Queens Boulevard, which opened around 1958, offered a mom and pop ambiance, and was part of a chain that carved a market for quality kosher gourmet chocolates.

Stephen Klein, a Jewish chocolatier, immigrated from Austria in 1938, and founded the Barton’s Candy Corporation with the help of his brothers and partners, drawing from his family’s experience. In a 1952 issue of Commentary magazine, Klein said the goal was “to make each piece of candy attractive. You should keep wanting to eat more and not get tired.” 

Cy Glickman & his son Bobby circa 1964
Between 1962 and 1970, Cy Glickman was one of the owners of the Rego Park shop, which operated into the late 1980s. When Cy and his wife Gail moved from Forest Hills in 1962, they leased an apartment at Walden Terrace in Rego Park and purchased the store. Their son Bobby Glickman was born that same year, and worked at the shop when he was four years old, acquiring a first-hand experience in customer service, inventory, and operating the register. The salary was originally one dollar per hour. “It was a family affair with my dad’s mom, his sister, and my mom, as well as a few employees,” said Bobby.

However, Barton’s history in Rego Park dates as far back as 1950, when it was located a block west at 97-01 Queens Boulevard. Two other branches in operation were adjacent to the Forest Hills Theatre on Continental Avenue and on Queens Boulevard and Union Turnpike in Kew Gardens. Cy explained, “The chocolate was from Switzerland and was top grade. Barton’s had two factories on DeKalb Avenue in Brooklyn.”

Patrons were welcomed to Cy’s shop by a sleek Art Deco and Mid-Century Modern storefront with a steel neon sign, and a large candy cane door handle, which was a popular feature for Barton’s storefronts. Facade panels were designed to resemble candy. The aesthetics carried into the interior, offering creatively decorated displays, terrazzo floors, and colorful illustrated wall art. Bobby said, “This was a place to buy special treats for special occasions. The store was fancy, and dad improved it with shelving, mirrors, and polish.”

Bobby referred to his father as young and enthusiastic, opening the shop at 8 AM and closing at 10 PM. Cy reminisced, “The public went out each night to stroll, and in the early 1960s, evening business was brisk. For an evening social visit, customers would pick up a box of candy at $1.98 for a pound of chocolate, plus 6 cents sales tax.”

Patrons’ favorites included Almond Bark Bar in dark chocolate, milk chocolate, and white chocolate, as well as solid chocolate in small blocks, Almond Kisses, and mint chocolate buttons, to name a few. A popular slogan remains “The best kiss you ever had.” “I often shipped candy boxes upstate to neighborhood kids at camp, or even to soldiers in Korea, Japan, and Germany,” said Cy. In addition, Barton’s sold collectibles such as menorahs, goblets, decorative plates, and dolls.

Barton’s even produced their own ice cream, which was available in pints for 65 cents and as sandwiches for 15 cents. “The fanciest candy in the store was the marzipan from Switzerland, which was shaped like fruits and other foods, and sold at $3.98 per pound. It was strictly for the older folks,” said Cy.

“It wasn't a drugstore, but a place where the product was pure heaven, like selling Coca-Cola,” said Bobby, who recalled his favorite job as cleaning the abundant glass with Windex, and winding the outside awning to shade the chocolate in the afternoon, when sunshine was at its peak. Barton’s allowed Cy to meet everyone from patrons to shop owners and operators. He said, “We shared the task of snow removal and had coffee, when the neighborhood was bustling and peaceful.”

Bobby said, “I liked the unlimited handfuls of chocolate that you could grab from behind the counter. The chocolates tasted and smelled like nothing you can imagine. My dad was a sweetheart to all, and that is why everyone in the family wanted to work for him. Walking around the neighborhood where everyone knew and liked your dad was a warmhearted feeling for a kid. It was a good time.”

Changes in demographics and personal preferences later transpired. Cy explained, “Barton’s broke the franchising contract by marketing their candy at Alexander’s, and changing styles spelled the end of high-end chocolates in a new immigrant community.”

After the Glickman family sold Barton’s, it changed ownership before turning into a food shop, followed by Blimpie and most recently Ariel’s Cafe. While Barton’s no longer operates independent shops, their products are sold countrywide and even on Amazon. 

Barton's collectible tin cans, Photo by Michael Perlman

Barton’s whimsical and colorful tin cans feature geometrical patterns, hearts, birds, and flowers, and are now regarded as collectibles. Among them is perhaps the most memorable design which features a cartoon-like illustration that captures street life, which Bobby retained in his collection among Barton’s Judaica and vintage photos of the Rego Park shop and the neighborhood. Cy left the store with a giant roll of wrapping paper, which wrapped gifts for decades. Today, he enjoys his retirement in Florida by spending quality time with Gail and playing pickleball.

A similar version of this feature was published in Michael Perlman's Forest Hills Times column:

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