After 40 years, Wanda's Sugar Shack will probably close at the end of the year

A downtown icon may be leaving at the end of the year. Relatives of Wanda Hornack, who owns Wanda’s Sugar Shack, say the “penny candy” store that’s been in Milford 40 years is likely to close its doors for good.

Wanda, 91, was noticeably missing from the store during this weekend’s Lamplight Stroll, a holiday shopping event. Instead, her daughter Carole Beers, son Michael Hornack and granddaughter Shannon Small were manning the shop.

Beers sat in the back room making chunky raisin and walnut chocolates — her mother’s recipe of course. Hornack and Small manned the register and chatted with customers, fewer this year because the shelves and shelves of candy have dwindled as Wanda’s family contemplates closing the store.

Wanda, 91, hasn’t been at the peak of health this year, her family said. She fell in January and hurt herself and just never fully recovered. Beers has been helping in the shop ever since.

“A decision has to be made,” Beers said, sadly contemplating a move that seemed inevitable since Wanda is no longer able to run the candy shop that has turned her into a bit of a celebrity in town.

“It costs $1,000 a month just to keep the shop open,” Beers said, “and she puts in money from her pension to keep it going.”

The family members on hand this weekend said they don’t expect to reorder the penny candy and other distributor-bought items that fill the clear jars that line the wall. When it runs out, it runs out, and that will likely be it.

Wanda’s Sugar Shack is known to Milford residents old and young. The older generation can remember stopping in and buying bags of Swedish fish and Bazooka gum 30 or 40 years ago; the newest generation may have done the same, and added what became some of Wanda’s signature homemade chocolates to their bags before walking to the cash register.

Small said that when she was a child, her friends were always a tad jealous that her grandmother was a candy maker.

She remembered going into the store when she was little, and while her parents didn’t let her eat lots of candy, Grandma Wanda would always say, “Here, take some Swedish fish.”

When Small went to Florida for college, she would regularly get packages from her grandmother that included five pounds of homemade fudge and those sweet, red and gummy fish candies.

“We were in California once,” Small said, “and we were all out and all of a sudden we hear someone yell, ‘Wanda!’ People recognized her. She was definitely a celebrity.”

Wanda’s grandson Mark Beers Jr. is serving in Iraq, and over the years of getting lots of candy shipments from home, the young man’s unit posted a “Sugar Shack” sign on one of the tents, Carole Beers said.

Wanda opened her candy shop on New Haven Avenue 40 years ago after working in sales at a department store downtown. “It was her dream to open a business,” Beers said, noting that her father was a police officer and he helped her get started when she decided on the candy shop.

She later moved her shop downtown, where she has occupied several locations. Her candy shop has not been spared trials and tribulations. She closed once due to a flood and twice due to fires that wrecked her store. In the midst, there was a fire at her house that did considerable damage. Yet, she kept coming back and making candy.

At first she sold penny candy that she had purchased from a distributor. But as time went on, she began making her own, and eventually her peanut butter cups and fudge nearly became famous in their own right and complemented the distributor-bought penny candies she sold.

Wanda’s family isn’t happy about closing up shop. But there’s no one in the family who can take it over, so it seems the only practical move, they said. It will stay open Saturdays only through the end of the year, and then it will likely close for good.

Editor's Note: See our facebook invite and say farewell to Wanda's this Saturday, Dec. 15, from 11 a.m. to 2 P.M.