The road to opening a retail location for Popcorn Works and Sweet Shop at the old pump house in Peoria Heights was not supposed to be this long.
But when you’re trying to refurbish a building that’s nearly 90 years old into a kid-friendly candy shop, delays happen.
“Taking it from a pump house to a retail store, there’s some glitches along the way and that just kind of goes with the age of the building,” owner Pete Clarno said. “The pandemic didn’t help and there were some minor structural issues that need to be fixed.”
But work begun last summer finally culminated Nov. 27 in the opening of the store at 1203 E. Kingman Ave.
Popcorn Works and Sweet Shop stimulates the senses
Upon entering the store, the first thing that hits you is the smell. A delicious aroma of popcorn, coming in multiple flavors, fills the room.
The second thing one might notice could be the colors of the candy and popcorn, or the old design of the building.
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For the holiday season, popcorn flavors like peppermint and Grinchpop have been deployed. But special to the store is its “gnome mix.”
As the (recently concocted) legend goes, neighbors of the pump house shuttered in 1984 would often hear clattering coming from the building at odd hours of the day and night.
In this tall tale, when neighbors looked in the building’s windows, gnomes were running the pumps inside, pumping candy instead of water.
To fulfill the child-pleasing story, Clarno plans to add colorful pipes on the ceiling filled with candy.
There are plans to greatly expand the candy selection, as well. When customers walk in their eyes will “get popped with color, excuse the pun,” Clarno said.
Behind the renovation, and the delays
Converting a pump house built in 1934 was no easy task.
Work began last summer on the property, which the Clarno family is subletting from Kim Blickenstaff’s KDB Group, which leases it from Peoria Heights. Once used to pump water to the village, the pump house later sent water just to the Pabst brewery in the Heights that closed nearly four decades ago.
Previously: Popcorn Works in the works in Peoria Heights
Structural issues requiring time and attention included a basement that had “persistent” water in it, Clarno said.
But they also added amenities to bolster business during times traffic is hopping in the Heights at nearby spots like Tower Park.
A patio was built outside the store, with a concession style walk-up window so families and children in the warm months will be able to walk up and enjoy not only popcorn, but hot dogs, nachos, cotton candy and other concession foods outdoors.
A Clarno family affair
Pete Clarno runs the store with his wife and two daughters. In fact, it was his oldest daughter Erica Ogden who really pushed the idea of opening the store, he said.
“To have this store and have my daughters and my wife a part of it is a lot of fun,” Clarno said.
The family ended up finding someone who is “top notch” at popping popcorn solely by chance. A carpenter working on refurbishing the store recommended his wife for the position, Clarno said, citing her 25 years of experience doing the job.
“She’s been at it for awhile and her and I just kind of trade ideas and she is definitely the queen of popping popcorn,” Clarno said.
Clarno used to manage nearby Oliver’s Pizza and formerly owned a Galena Road bar after spending 30 years building golf courses.
So how much did he know about popcorn and candy before undertaking this venture? Not much, he says, other than his kids wanted him to do it.
“My oldest daughter, she always had a dream of having a little popcorn, candy store and she thought the Heights would be the perfect place to do it,” Clarno said.
His youngest daughter Stephanie Russell said this is “definitely different” for her dad, but said it’s been a great idea.
“It’s a great location, especially when summertime comes around the kids can just ride their bikes here, they have the outside window, there’s the concession, they can just come up and hangout and I feel like it will bring more of the history of the Heights back,” she said.
The family is all thrilled to see the store open, though Clarno allows that his dad, a dentist, may be “jumping in his grave” at the idea of his son owning a candy store.