Tucked under a green-and-white-striped awning along Church Street in Crestline Village, you’ll find a shop that childhood dreams are made of. A bright, white space trimmed in vibrant rainbows of candy, Sarah Franklin Johnson’s store, Sugar, is a smorgasbord of eye candy that is rivaled only by the deliciousness of the actual sweets.
In 2010, after working for several years as a special education teacher followed by a stint in sales, her friend Babs Anderson presented a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for Sarah to pursue a new and exciting path. Combining her love for children and her nostalgia for old-fashioned candy shops, Sugar has been a dream come true for Sarah.
The charm and walkability of Crestline Village draws many young families to the picturesque sidewalks, making it the perfect location for Sarah’s sweets shop. Before opening her doors, however, a renovation was in order to completely revitalize the space. Sarah wanted the style of Sugar to be an extension of her personal aesthetic and of the clean, no-fuss approach she took when naming the shop. She remade the space with the help of Jeremy Corkern of Bates Corkern Studio and achieved a look that is fresh — a blank canvas allowing the candy to be the focal point. A white color palette is beautifully implemented, with stainless steel and Lucite accents. Funky, mod touches are featured throughout the store, like the ’60s-inspired light fixtures on the wall behind the counter and sparkly starburst pieces hanging in the center of the room.
The decor is lovely, but the candy is really the star of the show. Jars upon jars of Jelly Belly jelly beans, Sarah’s personal favorite, line the shelves at the counter, mimicking the colorful display of shaved ice flavorings displayed on the wall behind the counter. Stainless steel tables display glass jars brimming with packaged candy, and a vintage gumball machine sits in the corner. Rows of Lucite candy containers fill the right wall, and the finishing touch — a rolling library ladder à la Beauty and the Beast — adds to the whimsical feel.
Running Sugar has been a constant evolution and learning process for Sarah. She has carefully honed the selection of sweets over the years, constantly assessing the treats most popular with her customers and the candies that keep them coming back. Sarah says she has many connoisseurs who are very particular about their favorite kind of chocolate or gummy candy, and she’s sure to stock their favorites. “I have several customers who come in specifically for certain chocolate items,” Sarah says. “They are religious about it, which is really fun, because I get to see them come in all the time.” Getting to build relationships with customers who come in on their lunch breaks to grab a quick treat is always a highlight for Sarah.
Most people have a personal, often nostalgic, connection to candy, and Sarah wants Sugar to be the place for local children to make those special childhood memories. “Candy takes everybody back to their childhood,” Sarah says. “It reminds them of a time where everything was perfect and fun.” In that effort, the shop stays open late on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays in the fall for Ballroom Nights, when sixth-grade students take ballroom dance lessons down the street. After lessons, the students come down to the shop, buy a shaved ice or some candy, and spend time with their friends while waiting at the tables outside for their parents to pick them up.
“It’s kind of like their first experience going into the village by themselves with their friends at night, so it’s really special,” Sarah says. “I think they love the experience of getting dressed up, going to their lessons and then coming down here and hanging out with their friends.” Parents are also able to purchase “ballroom bucks,” a prepaid gift card that allows students to manage their candy money without having to carry cash.
Sugar carries bulk candies in a variety of flavors and individually packaged favorites, as well. Bulk candy is all self-serve and priced by weight, $9.95 per pound, while other packaged candies are priced individually. Sarah says Sugar’s delicious high-quality chocolates, mouth-puckering, ribbon-shaped sour belts and icy, refreshing snow cones are among the many popular items.
In addition to selling candy, Sarah has also flexed her creative muscles with some of the special gift items that she features in the shop. Her candy trees, adorned with rock candy or other treats, make lovely decor for parties. She also puts together individual, custom candy bags for favors and special events, and offers pretty paper cones filled with selections of candy for her customers to give as gifts, as well. At Sugar, you can also purchase beautiful, large balloons adorned with fringe or place a custom order for bulk candy to fill your own candy buffet — both one-of-a-kind offerings that add a special touch to any event.
Though she is passionate about candy, ultimately, for Sarah, it’s all about seeing kids of all ages delight in the colorful boutique, making friendships through the store and the overall affirming experience that Sugar has been. “I love the relationships I’ve made here. That’s really the best part of this,” Sarah says. “I feel like I have so much support from this community. They are so wonderful, and they are really what makes Sugar so special.”
No matter your taste in sweets, Sugar is a must-visit shop in Birmingham for both the young and the young at heart.