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Retrofitting Rochester: Fanny Farmer Candy

Aug 25, 2023

The intersection of Main Street and Clinton Avenue has been a major downtown nexus for much of its history.

In the late 1940s, when this photo was taken, Rochesterians came to the crossing to shop, dine, catch a bus or catch a film at one of many nearby theaters.

Perhaps the intersection's biggest draw for many years was the flagship Fanny Farmer candy store occupying its northwest corner.

Founded by Canadian entrepreneur Frank P. O'Connor, Fanny Farmer Candy began operations in Rochester in 1919. Borrowing the company's name from a well-known cookbook author, O'Connor established a candy factory — or "studio," to use the company's terminology — on South Avenue and a shop in the old Whitcomb House building on Main Street. The store moved to the location pictured here in 1938.

The shop received multiple deliveries a week from the South Avenue studio. Since freshness was a key mark of the Fanny Farmer brand, candies were produced in small batches from the purest foods available.

Chocolates made using the finest creams, fresh fruits and imported nut meats from Europe and South America arrived in tin boxes to the store, where employees filled in display cases one row at a time, each responsible for a different flavor.

The purity of Fanny Farmer's products was matched by the cleanliness of its shops. In 1952, by which time the company had 370 outlets across the country, the Main Street location received a facelift complete with glass doors, mirrored walls and slim-lined lighting to showcase the candies on display. Deemed "the most beautiful candy shop in all of America," the flagship store's look was later replicated at other Fanny Farmer locations.

Employees of the chain took pains to maintain their shop's pristine appearance, but experienced no restrictions when it came to the shop's products.

"We have no spies, no spotters," company president, John D. Hayes boasted in 1953, "We tell the girls to eat all the candy they want."

One such girl was Mildred House, who claimed that she ate only about 5 pounds worth of candy during her almost 50-year tenure at the Main Street shop.

In a 1989 interview with the Democrat and Chronicle, House recalled the long lines of men that curled around the corner every year on Valentine's Day, but noted that one of the store's biggest customers was not a love-struck gent, but a swindler with a sweet tooth.

"A gambler kept us in nylons and butter all during the war," House indicated, "He bought a lot of candy, especially during the holidays. A truck used to back up to his door and everyone went home with a box of candy. He was so good to everybody, even though he was a gambler."

Although the store once drew Rochesterians from all walks of life, Fanny Farmer faced increasing competition from other candy manufacturers in the latter half of the 20th century. One of these competitors, Russell Stover, acquired the company in 1965. Two years later, Fanny Farmer's Rochester factory closed and so did the store pictured above.

The former sweets shop went on to house Bauman and Sons Jewelers for many years before becoming home to the colorful wig store that currently marks the bustling intersection.

Morry, a historical researcher in the City Historian's Office, completed a Ph.D. in American history at the University of Rochester in 2012.


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To see more historic images, visit the Monroe County Library System's Rochester Images database.

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