A penny can still buy you Tootsie Roll candy at a Syracuse store

Aug 3 2013 - 11:23pm


You're walking through the grocery store parking lot, and you see a penny lying there on the ground. Do you pick it up?

We're assuming, of course, that you're physically able to retrieve it -- that is, that this summer's unbearably hot temperatures haven't somehow fused it to the asphalt.

So then, do you? Do you pick it up?

Maybe you need a little lady luck in your life. There is, after all, the old nursery rhyme:

Find a penny

Pick it up

All the day

You'll have good luck.

I'd like to go on record pointing out that to be a true rhyme, this little verse ought to promise that you'll have good lup. Which makes no sense at all, seeing as how none of the newsroom dictionaries I consulted have a definition for a "lup," and the only online reference I could find was an acronym for Low Urethral Pressure. And that doesn't sound like something one would necessarily equate with good fortune.

What's more, most superstitionologists point out that, for that particular rhyme to work, the penny needs to be lying head's up -- everyone knows you should never pick up a tail's-up penny; you're just asking for trouble.

If you're not currently in the market for a little lup, perhaps instead you'd really like to know what someone is thinking. Because -- in theory, anyway -- it still costs a mere "penny for your thoughts."

Ooh, or maybe you're wanting to offer your opinion on a subject. If that's the case, fine, but you're going to have to spend more time scouring that parking lot, as you're only halfway to offering "my two cents."

Sadly, if you're looking to actually buy something -- like a commodity of some sort -- a single U.S. cent isn't going to do you much good these days. Yes, there have been reports of items selling on Amazon.com for a penny. But in these cases, the buyer still has to pay for shipping, so that doesn't really count.

Enter Rick Cowley. Believe it or not, he's one of the few people on this planet who still sells penny candy.

Cowley sells his cheap sweets out of his video rental store, Star Video, in Syracuse. I know this because I recently did an interview with Cowley for a story on mom-and-pop video stores, and as he was showing me around his establishment, we came across a candy display filled with tiny, individually wrapped Tootsie Rolls -- offered for one cent apiece.

"I get a LOT of neighborhood kids in here buying candy," Cowley said.

Granted, these are Midgees we're talking about -- at just 3 grams, the smallest of the various sizes of Tootsie Roll. Still, the kids love them.

"They're very popular," Cowley says. "But I gotta sell 700 of 'em to make a dime."

Cowley once had a kid come into the store and buy 300 Tootsie Rolls at once.

"And he paid in pennies," he deadpans.

The really smart kids buy in much smaller quantities. Because of the way the tax laws are set up, you can spend up to 16 cents and still not have to pay sales tax. As such, 16 one-cent Tootsie Rolls will cost you exactly 16 cents. But after that, sales tax kicks in, so 17 Tootsie Rolls will actually cost you 18 cents.

So, if you're one of those older folks nostalgic for the good old days, drop by Star Video in Syracuse for some individually wrapped Tootsie Roll molecules.

Because otherwise? Looking for penny candy in this day and age?

All I can say is, "Best of lup."

Contact Mark Saal at

801-625-4272, msaal@standard.net, or follow him on Twitter at @Saalman.


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