Kingfield mourns its ‘candy bartender’

Neighbors of Sugar Sugar Candy at 3803 Grand Ave. S. are mourning store owner Joni Wheeler, who died Feb. 10 at age 52.

A meticulous gift wrapper and curator of rare candies, Wheeler opened the shop in 2009, naming it after The Archies’ 1969 tune. She once told the Southwest Journal she thought of herself as a “candy bartender.”

“You have to do what you love,” she said in 2010. “If you’re passionate about it, then none of the other stuff, all the trials and tribulations, [they] really don’t get you down.”

Joni’s husband Pat said he’s not sure what is in store for the shop.

“We’re thinking about that now,” he said. “It will be coming into focus hopefully soon.”

Neighbor Lisa Arneson said the news about Joni’s passing broke her heart.

“Sugar Sugar has always been a magical place that I wanted my kids to grow up going to,” she said.

The shop is Arneson’s go-to spot for perfectly wrapped teacher presents. When she learned Joni died, she wrote a letter to every teacher that had received her gifts.

“I felt like she was connected to them,” Arneson said. “They appreciated [the gifts] so much, because she put so much care into it.”

Her family’s favorite treats include the Wine Gums, Zotz that date back to Arneson’s childhood, and novelties like white chocolate bars with ginger snaps inside.

Scott Winter lives down the street from Sugar Sugar. He said the shop set the standard for the neighborhood atmosphere, something particularly important in a busy area that can feel disjointed.

“It’s very old-fashioned,” he said. “You can gossip and catch up on what’s going on. It’s delightful.”

Winter wrote a tribute to Joni in a post on Sugar Sugar’s Facebook page:

“I still chuckle at how much care you would take to package my gifts, despite my midwestern protestations, and how simply arching an eyebrow was enough to get you to add another half scoop to my bag, no questions asked,” he said. “And while still laden with guilt for having sworn off your cursed malted milk balls in the hopes of containing an ever expanding waistline, I loved that you rolled down your car window a couple of weeks ago to say hi, while I was shoveling snow. Your kind and generous spirit touched me and I hope I’m a better person because of it. I miss you already.”