Ask any long-time resident of Coney Island about Philip's Candy Store and you're bound to hear pleasant stories of the shop with red and white awnings, that welcomed visitors to the park's amusements. You'll also hear about the homemade salt water taffy, peanut brittle, cotton candy, and friendly staff welcoming customers year-round.
Photo: Irving I. Herzberg, 1974
Philip's candy store started as a small stand on Coney Island's boardwalk in 1916, owned and operated by Philip Calamaris. It remained a stand until 1930 when it reached its new home under the Stillwell Avenue train station, located at 1237 Surf Avenue.
In 1947, John Dorman, an energetic, 17-year-old Staten Island native, began working at the candy shop--commuting three hours each way to and from Staten Island. He worked as the counterperson until 1956, when he purchased the shop upon Calamaris' retirement. Dorman carried on the tradition of making homemade candy and continued to run the shop without the help of modern machines or an electric cash register.
Postcard, courtesy of John Dorman
After Dorman married his wife Audrey, whom he met while she was a counter person at a luncheonette next to the candy store, they moved across the street from Steeplechase Park. Audrey helped him perfect the recipes, as did his current shop partner Peggy Cohn, who began working at Philip's when she was 15, bagging salt water taffy.
Philip's was special: it was open year-round 11am-3am (4am on Friday's and Saturday's); customers received a free cookie with the purchase of a coffee; and people who walked by the shop could hear Dorman humming as he made the candy from scratch.
While there are many delicious treats in the shop, his chocolate covered strawberries are my favorite--while others crave his candied apples. Dorman's recipe for the candied apples has been replicated in The Brooklyn Cookbook.
His shop is also depicted in Charles Denson's Book, Wild Ride: A Coney Island Roller Coaster Family.
Denson interviewed Dorman about his shop in 2010.
In 1988, the MTA cleared most of the businesses under the Stilwell train terminal for a multi-million dollar remodeling project, however, Dorman refused to leave. Nevertheless, in 2000, he lost his battle with the MTA and Philip's was demolished.
Photo: C. Modica, 2012
In 2003, Dorman re-opened his candy store in Staten Island, and re-named it Philip's Candy of Coney Island. Now 82, he continues to operate the shop in the Port Richmond section of Staten Island on 8 Barrett Avenue. I am thankful because it is only two blocks away from my house and now I can enjoy the homemade specialties including chocolate covered fruits and his homemade fudge--and Mr. Dorman is still humming. Although his shop is no longer in Coney Island, you can still enjoy Philip's Candy simply by crossing the Verrazano Bridge.
Photo: Irving Hoffman, 1940s.