By Danny Crownover
Years ago, The Vagabond grew up with a friend in the local school system. We both went to Striplin Elementary School, Disque Junior High School and Gadsden High School. The friend’s name was John Stam.
As a young teenager, John had a job as a local newspaper carrier and often was seen at Cherry Street Park. Few knew about John’s heritage but many sure knew about his grandmother’s candy store.
John’s grandfather was John Stamapoulas, or Stamatopoulas, born around 1894. He immigrated to the United States in 1912 from Greece. This was about the time that Greece was drawn into the Balkan Wars. It is not known why John Stamapoulas left Greece at about 18 years old. His father’s name was Harry Stamapoulas. Very little is known about the grandfather’s early life.
About 1920, the grandfather married Helen S. Beard (born April 15, 1901) of Pharisburg, Ohio.
The following year, they were recorded to be living in Gadsden. In 1927, they were living at 225 South 3rd Street.
Stam’s Candy Shoppe actually began in the 1930s in the home kitchen of Helen Stamapoulas, who developed her techniques by taking a correspondence course in confectionery.
The candy shop‘s popularity grew, and in 1956 Helen and her husband John closed his hat cleaning business downtown and built the present store onto what was then their home.
By 1940, both John and Helen Stamapoulas had decided on shortening their last name to Stam. John Stam died August 23, 1959. Helen passed away April 8, 1991.
The Stams’ granddaughter Patty Vinson remembers:
“My grandmother Helen Stam was a gourmet cook, an artist, an avid gardener and a talented lady who loved to do crochet and tatting. She also was a woman who loved her church (First United Methodist in Gadsden) and made it her business to know all who attended.
“Grandmother made candy unlike any I have ever tasted. She was around chocolate so much that her clothes, her hair and skin all smelled like chocolate!
“She made the most intricately detailed wedding mints and the most elaborate Easter Bunnies, along with about a dozen other chocolate molds celebrating/commemorating what that particular holiday was all about.
“Grandmother had the most delightful custom-made Easter baskets. It is heartwarming to read comments complimenting her talents and the impact her little shop made on Gadsden and surrounding area all of these years later.
“Every holiday season was marked by specific types of candies and decorations. Easter was simply glorious because Grandmother had these very detailed chocolate molds she used. There were large, medium and small standing bunnies. There was a bunny pushing a cart, a lamb laying in grassy ground and a small and large cross with grass and flowers at the foot.
“Most exceptional were Grandmother’s egg molds. There was a plain egg and a panorama egg in three sizes, as well as an egg with an Easter design molded into the chocolate. Each egg was outlined at the seam with decorative icing, and you could order ones with names written on them.
“There usually was a mound of flowers hand-fashioned at the top along with leaves and ‘Happy Easter’ written if there was room. Grandmother detailed all of her eggs and used a lot of different colored icings on each one, sometimes custom colored.
“The panorama eggs were most fascinating to me. You could peer inside the window to see a nest of eggs (jelly beans on a handmade green nest) and a chicken or bunny or both in a yard of grass and flowers. The tiny animals were ordered in but all else was hand-made by Grandmother.
I remember well making bows for her large bunnies, complete with a bell, and putting them around the bunny’s neck. She also filled custom-ordered Easter baskets, and they were exquisite, not to mention her normal boxes of candy which sold like no tomorrow.
“You don’t find talent like Grandmother anymore, nor do you find handmade items with so much detail and craftsmanship. Her chocolate was heavenly; if you find decorated chocolate these days, it is typically machine-done and the chocolate is waxy (cheap). How I wish I had known as a child what a rare gift my grandmother possessed!”
This small custom candy store was a Gadsden institution for more than 30 years. It offered an amazing 72 varieties of sweets. It may be one of the last of its kind. Most handmade candy enterprises, like handmade anything else, have quietly disappeared into the past.