After 36 years in business at the corner of Hester and Ludlow streets, The Sweet Life candy store will be closing at the end of this month.
We started hearing from customers a few days ago when signs appeared outside the little shop at 63 Hester St. One of them read, “36 years – We need love. Please help.” Another advertised a 30% off “thank you sale.” In a phone interview yesterday afternoon, Sweet Life owner Gloria Farewell confirmed the news.
Over the years, said Farewell, her landlord has charged a reasonable rent. But recently she was presented with a $4,000 water bill, covering the past couple of years as well as the upcoming year. [The Sweet Life has no production facilities on site and does not use water to run the business.] “It’s a small business, explained Farewell, and it is doing well, but the increased costs are a burden.” There have been serious water leaks from apartments above the store, as well as rodent infestations in the basement. The business has had to pay to deal with those problems.
“It has been heart wrenching decision,” said Farewell, (to close) a shop so many love, and one I fell in love with myself. It feels like a dear friend has passed… I guess all things must come to and end.”
The Sweet Life was opened by Jerry McCarthy in 1982. He ran it with his wife, Terry McIlvaine, until 2003. Farewell is the third owner, having purchased the business four years ago. Over the years, the shop has relied, at least in part, on a shrinking Jewish population of the Lower East Side. Business was especially brisk in the days leading up to Purim and Passover. Farewell, who was involved with The Sweet Life for several years before becoming owner, said fewer Jewish customers are coming in these days. [Today that traditional demographic is about 10% of The Sweet Life’s customer base, down from 80%.]
Farewell said several factors prompted her decision to close the store. She doesn’t work in the shop, meaning staff must be hired to run the business day-to-day. “Plus the neighborhood is changing,” noted Farewell. She’s been concerned about the impact that Trader Joe’s would have on her business when it opens in the fall on Grand Street. “For years we’ve had great customers,” she added, “but a lot of people just won’t pay higher prices.”
New York Press profiled The Sweet Life in 2004, telling Jerry McCarthy’s story:
McCarthy, a longtime neighborhood resident, acquired the store through an odd turn of events. “This store used to sell fruits and vegetables and a little candy for years. It closed down for about a year, and there was nothing in here,” he recalls. “It was a very dilapidated place, but it had some jars like this in the windows, some empty jars they were getting rid of,” says McCarthy, tapping on a tall, thick-walled jar holding pistachio nuts. “I thought I’d buy some jars, to put in the pantry or hold pasta or something. He gave me a price for the jars that was a little high. I said ‘Maybe I’ll get them, I’ll think about it.'” Within the next hour, McCarthy ended up buying the lease to the store. “It was inexplicable. I was looking for some kind of business to do, and I didn’t really know any business. So I bought the store. Instead of buying the jars I bought the whole place.”
McCarthy still lives in an apartment above the shop. The Sweet Life’s “everything must go sale” will continue until the store closes June 30. Today, the discount from upped to 40%.