CANONSBURG – There’s something sweet about downtown Canonsburg.
Last Thursday, Grandpa Joe’s, a locally owned and nationally revered candy store, moved into the former PNC Bank along West Pike Street. The grand opening was announced on social media just days before the ribbon-cutting ceremony.
“I wasn’t expecting such amazing feedback online,” said Christopher J. Beers, who opened his flagship store in Pittsburgh’s Strip District nearly a decade ago. “I’m thrilled.”
Beers, whose obsession with Willy Wonka dates back to high school, is a real-life candy man with a goal of treating visitors not just to a candy store, but to an experience.
“I don’t want to be a retail store that people come in and go out. I want them to have experiences here,” said Beers. “The idea here is to be part of the community.”
Beers himself is a member of the community. He and his family moved from the Poconos to Canonsburg about 10 years ago, and since he opened that first Grandpa Joe’s, business has expanded into 12 locations.
“Here I am investing in all these small towns across Pennsylvania and Ohio ... I need to invest right here in Canonsburg,” said Beers. “This is my home now. I should give back to the community.”
Beers considered opening up shop in Canonsburg for years, but it was never the right time. Economic development was slow and there didn’t seem to be a market.
Then, he said, Rusty Gold Brewing opened, and Scarmazzi Homes started investing in the area. When Lisa Scarmazzi took the helm as Canonsburg’s economic developer, events like Alleyway Saturdays drew crowds and the owners of 4 West Pike Street added lights to the building’s exterior, he knew it was time.
“I am a sucker for accent lighting,” laughed Beers. “(The Bachmanns) put the lights on this building, and (I thought), ‘I have to have it. Canonsburg’s ready.’”
Beers signed a lease at the beginning of summer but kept his project secret. Not even the contractors knew what business was moving into the old PNC Bank. All Grandpa Joe’s shops are located in rehabbed buildings along small town main streets, and Beers kept as much of the original building as he could, including the large bank vaults inside.
Inside one vault is a 75-inch flat-screen TV, for gaming, and the other is stacked floor-to-ceiling with safety deposit boxes. Loyalty customers will receive keys to the boxes, where a prize sits waiting to be opened.
“It’s my world of imagination,” said Beers. “You never quite know what to expect, other than an amazing experience.”
And unusual candies, sodas and gifts. Beers spent seven years tracking down a connection so he could offer a certain imported candy (ask him about it), and Grandpa Joe’s sells everything from chocolate frogs made famous by Harry Potter to Necco wafers to the trendiest treats.
“TikTok is driving trends right now,” said Beers, pointing to a candy called TikTok Jelly. “I try really hard to be the first person to have the new thing.”
He’s also the only person in the world to sell ketchup soda – a Grandpa Joe’s original fizzy drink that took Beers more than a year to develop. The drink holds its own in an impressive wall display filled with 199 other bottle craft sodas.
“Everybody has a local soda manufacturer,” he said, pointing out Massachusetts’ Moxie soda and Pittsburgh’s Red Ribbon line. “We have our own line. We’re not the only one that does weird flavors, but my twist, I want a serious weird flavor.”
Grandpa Joe’s currently offers cotton candy, pickle and bacon pops, and a bleu cheese soda is in development.
Beers hopes Grandpa Joe’s $5 Candy Bar and unique offerings will draw visitors to Canonsburg, where they’ll stay a while to explore the other new businesses popping up downtown.
“I hope the addition of Grandpa Joe’s to downtown will inspire someone else to come to town and fill some of the vacant properties,” said Beers. “This is what Canonsburg needed. I want to be part of the community and offer a space that’s pretty unique.”