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Candy is dandy for conference

Joe Weakland, owner of the Candy Barrel in Crossroads Plaza, is OK with conference Sundays when "40,000 people are downtown and I don't sell anything."

That's because he's already made up for it on Saturday.

Joe's been in the candy business in Salt Lake City for 4 1/2 years now, ever since he took over the store that sits on the main level of the mall, only several long licorice ropes from Temple Square. That's long enough for him to know that when The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints holds its biannual general conferences every October and April, he and the Candy Barrel will not be neglected.

"Conference weekend means my two biggest days of the year," says Joe, referring to the Saturdays that precede the climactic Sunday services. "Compared to a regular Saturday, I do triple the business. But payroll's a lot less, doing it in one day." So the net effect is even more than triple.

To members of a church that prohibits the consumption of alcohol, tea, coffee and tobacco, candy has always been dandy. "I don't want to say it's an evil . . . it's a pleasure they can do. Is that politically correct?" says Joe.

Joe's only wish is that the church would hold more conferences. "I tell my LDS friends that they need to talk them into doing this four or five times a year, they need to keep the people together, not let them stray," he says, winking, as he makes sure his salt water taffy bins — holding the world's largest collection of gourmet taffy — are full to overflowing.

Joe came to Salt Lake City seven years ago from San Diego to visit a friend and decided to stay. He was in the security business and coached high school baseball in California. Here, he's a candy man and he can hardly believe his good fortune that he almost literally stumbled into a candy store in the middle of a place that adores candy.

"I had no idea about the local culture when I took over the store," he says, remembering that he was walking back from reading the San Diego newspapers at Borders Books one day when he wandered by and got into a conversation with a manager for the company that had taken over the mall store in 2000 when the previous local owners went bankrupt.

A gregarious, likeable man, the next thing Joe knew, he owned a candy store.

Whenever conference weekend comes, Joe feels like a kid.

People flock to the Candy Barrel's barrels. "It starts picking up on Wednesday, by Fridays it's really good, and then Saturday is huge," he says.

The biggest seller is the taffy — Salt Lake City's signature candy. Joe says people from out of state buy it to take home with them while others buy it to enjoy immediately.

What Joe calls "smuggler-style candy" also falls off the shelves during conference week. "People buy a lot of the smaller candy that they can sneak into the meetings," he says. "Last weekend was women's conference and a lot of women came in. We give the ladies a bag and they say, 'Oh no, I don't need a bag, just put it in my purse.' "

The Candy Barrel is open for business on Sunday, but on conference Sunday, it might as well be selling tattoos.

"Normally on Sunday, a few LDS people wander in and buy something," says Joe. "But on conference Sunday, none of them do, afraid they'll be seen."

He smiles the smile of a contented man who knows and enjoys the culture that surrounds him.

"I love it here," he says.

It's a sweet life.

Lee Benson's column runs Sunday, Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Please send e-mail to and faxes to 801-237-2527.