Arreta-Rie Johnson in her store, The Tooth Fairy Candy Store, in St. Paul's historically Black Rondo neighborhood on May 3, 2023. Credit: Dymanh Chhoun | Sahan Journal

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Aretta-Rie Johnson has given away candy her whole life, but now she’s selling it in order to teach youth a valuable lesson.

The 61-year-old opened The Tooth Fairy Candy Store, 861 Selby Avenue, in St. Paul’s historically Black Rondo neighborhood while working on the dissertation for her doctorate degree about promoting entrepreneurship. 

“I wanted to help other Black women fulfill some of their dreams by helping them with their entrepreneurial journey,” Johnson said. “And I said, ‘Why wait until they’re women?’”

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Johnson employs local youth part-time to help out with the shop, where she teaches them the ins and outs of running a business.

“I love youth, I love learning, and I’ve always envisioned a space like Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory,” Johnson said.

The Tooth Fairy Candy Store is a cozy space filled with classic sweets that provide a hit of nostalgia complete with a Pac-Man arcade machine. 

The neatly organized shelves are lined with chocolate bars like Whatchamacallit, Zagnut, and Snickers. There’s also a section dedicated to gum and a fridge with glass bottle sodas. But Johnosn also offers newer brands of candy like Juicy Drop and Push Pop, and snacks inspired by Pac-Man and the Japanese anime TV series, Dragon Ball.

Johnson, who loves candy, now gets to share that passion with others and explore her sweet tooth herself.

“People told me this slime was very popular,” Johnsons said while opening a box. “Ew, look at it—Face Twister Sour Slime. Woop! Woop!” 

Johnson purchased the candy store building through her non-profit, Developing Interest Vital In Nurturing Education (DIVINE) Institute. Johnson founded DIVINE nearly 30 years ago to work on the interpersonal development of youth through literacy and enrichment initiatives.

Johnson hopes the youth she works with can learn from watching her sell candy instead of just giving it away like she did for years at her nonprofit.

“It’s sort of hard to put a price on candy,” Johnson said. “But you know, this is about entrepreneurship. So, I have to teach youth, ‘This is what we paid for it, and this is what we need a profit in order to keep the store open.’”

Mychael Wright owns and operates Golden Thyme Coffee & Cafe about a block away from the candy store, and said he hopes to visit the store soon.

“I think it’s great,” said Wright, who is a Black business owner. “Any exposure that our young people in the community can see with folks that look like them to aspire to be business owners is a big plus in my opinion.”

Wright’s cafe has been a staple in the area for more than 20 years, and he believes it’s the oldest business in that corridor, which is also home to 2 Scoops Ice Cream Eatery, among other businesses. He’s happy to see more people opening businesses in the area.

“It’s been a great transformation in an area that for several years—many, many, many years—was on the decline. Now it’s a rejuvenation, if you will, in the businesses and making this corridor more valid,” Wright said.

The candy store has been a hit with neighborhood children since its opening in late April. Johnson said she makes sure to keep her prices affordable, and at times even pays the tax on 25-cent pieces of candy some of her customers buy when they only have a quarter to spend.

To her surprise, however, adults have become the largest portion of her customer base. 

“I don’t meet too many people that don’t like candy. I love candy,” Johnson said.

Johnson mostly operates the store herself with some help from the youth who participate in her nonprofit, and has limited business hours. The shop is closed Sundays, because Johnson also serves as a pastor at Resurrection Temple Church.

Johnson has big plans for the building. She wants to add a beauty salon, workout room, movie theater, and arcade that will all be free to the people Johnson works with through her nonprofit.

In the meantime, the candy store might be expanding due to high demand.

After customers fill a tube of Pucker Powder sour candy or stock up on Chick-O-Sticks, Johnson offers them a toothbrush or some dental floss. Among the many health disparities in communities of color, Johnson said, dental care is one area she felt she could help with.

“Even though it’s candy,” she said, “we want people to satisfy their sweet tooth responsibly.” 

The Tooth Fairy Candy Store, located at 861 Selby Avenue in St. Paul, is open Monday through Saturday from 2:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.

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Alfonzo Galvan is a reporter for Sahan Journal, covering work, labor, small business, and entrepreneurship. Before joining Sahan Journal, he covered breaking news and immigrant communities in South Dakota,...