“It’s a one-stop shop for those that have a sweet tooth,” says James Kimble, who opened Gji’s Sweet Shoppe on Washtenaw with his wife, Pamela, last fall. Gji (pro-nounced “Gee”) is the nickname of Kimble’s sister Sherry, who opened the original Gji’s in Joliet, Illinois, early last year. Kimble says Sherry used to go to one place for gourmet popcorn, another for candy, and a third for ice cream, and she wondered why there wasn’t anyplace in Joliet that sold all three. So she decided to open a store that did.
“We went down for the grand opening, and my wife said, ‘We should do this in Ann Arbor,'” recalls Kimble, who owns Boersma Travel with Pamela. Kimble says he’s fully committed to the travel industry, but Pamela, who works at Boersma, isn’t. “She’s been wanting to get out of the travel business for some time. When she asked that we do this, I couldn’t say no.”
After researching the business, he decided his sister was on to something. Gji’s, which is near Ace Barnes Hardware between Huron Parkway and Pittsfield, sells more than 200 kinds of candy: the store’s wooden shelves are lined with glass jars filled with jelly beans, jelly babies, chocolate-covered nuts and pretzels, gummy fruit slices, and all kinds of hard candy. Gji’s also sells what Kimble calls “nostalgic candy” like Sky Bars, Chick-O-Sticks, Valomilks, and flying saucers–a small, flying saucer-shaped wafer with a candy core. “The first week we were open, a couple came in. They said they’d been looking for flying saucers and couldn’t find them. They bought our entire inventory.”
The store also has sixteen different flavors of ice cream, plus smoothies and shakes. But the core of the business is gourmet popcorn. They have five kinds: caramel, cheese, kettle corn-style, movie theater-style, and Chicago-style–freshly popped and coated with an evil blend of buttery caramel and melted cheese. Kimble says it’s instantly familiar to anyone in Chicago. His sister spent a year and a half perfecting her own recipe. “She was experimenting with a caramel and cheese mixture, and it just caught on. People kept on asking for it.” It’s Gji’s most popular item, in Joliet and in Ann Arbor.
There’s no seating at Gji’s other than a single bench reserved for kids, who sometimes behave like kids in a candy store. “If the kids get really intense, the parents can tell them to sit on the time-out bench and watch TV while they eat their candy.” The Kimbles keep it tuned to channels like the Cartoon Network and Nickelodeon.
Kimble himself knows the dangers of being a kid in a candy shop. “As a kid, I was told don’t eat candy because of cavities,” he said, and so he didn’t eat much candy growing up. Now people suggest to him that with more than 200 kinds of candy on the shelves, he should experiment and try a different one every day, so he knows his inventory inside and out. But, he says, “the temptation’s too much. What I tell people is, we can almost do anything as long as it’s in moderation. My moderation is to refrain from testing a different piece every day.”
Gji’s Sweet Shoppe, 3368 Washtenaw. 369-3012. Mon.-Sat. 11 a.m.-6 p.m., Sun. noon-4 p.m.
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