The British often complain about an invasion of Americana, from burger joints to twangy accents picked up from television. I love my adopted countrymen, but for an American living far from home, these complaints can be tiresome.
However, there is one Yankee invasion I hate as much as the locals do: American candy stores. There are now nine of them on London’s Oxford Street alone. A guy called Chase Manders is to blame; he started importing and selling American candy to Britain 18 years ago and opened Kingdom of Sweets on Oxford Street in 2012. Soon after, stores that once sold knickknacks to tourists started muscling in.
I paid a visit to see what all the fuss was about. Could these shops take me back to my childhood? The answer was no. I went to Kingdom of Sweets and to the nearly adjacent American Candy Land and found them to be almost identical in decor, and fully identical in merchandise.
London’s ‘American candy stores’ are most un-American. America is known for excess. Anything you want, any flavour, style, colour, any size, as long as it’s EXTRA EXTRA-LARGE. Choice is a form of wealth. So why not sell American candy to those Europeans who’ve seen these tantalising products in expensive American movies and television?
Real Americans don’t go to these candy stores. We don’t even really have them in America — except M&M’s World (more on that horror later). You can buy candy in any corner store, hardware store, gas station or pharmacy in the US. We rarely have stores just for candy. You can get it anywhere, and that’s how we like it.
I expected these shops to be soulless tourist traps, like so many recent additions to Oxford Street. What I didn’t expect was how sordid they are. At Kingdom of Sweets, ‘Cola Willies’, ‘Candy G-Strings’ and ‘Jelly Super Sperms’ are sold alongside actual sex-shop items like ‘Edible Body Paints’. Cola Willies? No respectable American would sell those, let alone use the term ‘willy’. There were boxes of Kama Sutra gummy figures, candy boobs (choice of ‘fruity’ or ‘sugar-coated cola’) and ‘Gummy Love Rings’ (not for fingers). The most shocking item was a lollipop quite realistically shaped like a vagina.
Americans think of Brits as uptight, yet it’s Americans who are actually pretty prudish about sex, at least in public. But that’s not the point. The point is customers of a candy store are presumably children. Or perhaps not. These American candy stores are aimed at the jaded and the joyless, a place to stock up for yet another hen party. They are an abomination. I resent my country’s association with them, and not because I’m a prude. I won’t apologise for their presence on the streets of London, because I do not acknowledge them as being American.
At least I’m not alone. The Google reviews speak for themselves. Visitors complain of candy being sold well past its sell-by date. The prices often aren’t even displayed. When I visited, there were makeshift price tags stuck on with Scotch tape.
Where did this candy-land craziness start? M&M’s World is the original of its kind. The first shop opened in Las Vegas in 1997, and bigger ones soon followed in places like New York City and Minnesota’s Mall of America before London’s M&M’s World opened in 2011. I first experienced M&M’s World in my junior year of high school in 2007, and I remain as baffled by its appeal now as I was then. My drama class took a trip to New York and it was decided M&M’s World was top of the itinerary. MOMA, anyone? Statue of Liberty? Hell, I’d have even settled for Tiffany’s and the rest of 5th Avenue, just please God not M&M’s World. What even happens in there? I refused to go inside, so didn’t find out. I killed time loitering on the street, bored in the middle of Manhattan, but I was resolute.
Call me a snob if you like — I’m proud that my 16-year-old self understood these venues for the rackets that they are. Google ‘M&M’s World’ and the suggested search is ‘What can you do in M&M’s World?’. Good question. Here are the top answers: ‘You can see M&M’s in pretty much every colour!’ ‘Print your own personalised M&M’s.’ ‘Watch the M&M’s 3D movie.’ ‘Get your photo taken with M&M’s characters!’
Back to American Candy Land on Oxford Street. My husband insisted I check it out because Kingdom of Sweets isn’t American enough. ‘Why is it a “kingdom” if it’s American?’ he asked. I looked for something appealing. Instead I found more Cola Willies and rows and rows of Pop-Tarts. 24kGoldn’s ‘Mood’ — the worst pop song of 2020 — blared from the sound system.
I couldn’t take it any more. I settled for three packs of strawberry Twizzlers, of which I’m still fond, and four individually wrapped Jolly Ranchers, watermelon flavoured. They didn’t have cinnamon. I blew £30 on this measly lot. The Jolly Ranchers were past their sell-by date.