When Carroll Day Kimble spotted the bubble-gum cigarettes nestled among the wax lips, strips of candy buttons and Sky Bars in the Groovy Candies assortment, tears sprang to her eyes. "I remembered being 10 years old and how a puff of powdered sugar came out when you blew on them," recalls the voice-over casting director, 45, in Los Angeles. "I loved my childhood. It was about family and friends, not about the horror of life and all the terrible things out there."
With its assortments of all-but-forgotten childhood treats from the 1950s and '60s like pumpkin seeds, licorice pipes, candy necklaces, Necco Wafers and Boston Baked Beans, Groovy Candies is one of several nostalgia candy sellers that are unabashedly hawking such Proustian moments. Sales are booming: Groovy Candies' have risen from $50,000 to $3 million since the company was started in 1998. And it's not just candy. With the power of the Internet, other purveyors of childhood memories are resurrecting '50s-era toys and games, including wooden alphabet blocks with old-fashioned lettering and Fisher-Price Snoopy pull toys. They're also experiencing a surge in demand for best sellers from the 1940s like Slinkys, Nok Hockey and Uncle Wiggily. "The pendulum has swung back to these classic playthings," says Ken Moe, managing director of Back to Basics Toys, a company based in Herndon, Va., that specializes in old-time fun and games.
Most of these products have been around all along, relegated to the bottom shelves of disappearing mom-and-pop shops or sold only regionally. But the Internet has made them newly available to a wider audience, and the affluence and vibrant identity of the post--World War II generation have inspired marketers to cater to its members' unflagging fondness for their youth. "The repackaging of nostalgia is nothing new," says Syracuse University popular-culture expert Robert Thompson, "but for the boomers, it has reached new heights of industrial sophistication. They grew up at a time when there was an explosion of culture and products designed especially for them, and [those products are] easily resurrected." In fact, some experts say, these reminders of childhood may be so appealing because that era was--at least until the boomers started raising their own kids--the most child-centered in history. "Industry and communities focused on these cherished progeny," notes Purdue University family-studies scholar Karen Fingerman. "Communities built schools to educate them, and toy companies generated trinkets to amuse them."
Some of the vendors selling these treats and treasures from yesteryear are grownups who cherish the same memories as their customers. Take the man behind the relaunch of Fizzies, the effervescent drink tablet licked, dissolved and chugged by a whole generation of children. Fred Wehling, 51, president of Amerilab Technologies, was one of those kids. He remembers it all: the 29¢ his grandma gave him every week, the walk to the grocery store, meditating over which flavor to pick, hearing the tablet hit the water and fizz. The product, sweetened with cyclamate, died when the chemical was banned in 1969. "When the trademark became available," Wehling says, "I jumped on it immediately." The newly formulated Fizzies--with their old look--shipped out in May to fanfare and fan mail.