Old-time music greets customers as they walk into the Sugar Exchange–a nostalgic candy shop in downtown Janesville. But certain aspects of the Sugar Exchange are a bit more modern, in what owner Courtney Perakis calls, “a twist for old-school.”
The walls are covered with embossed teal wallpaper. The shop, situated on 119 N. Main St. next to a coffee shop is stocked with vintage treats and candy.
For Perakis, the downtown location of the shop is just as important as the design aesthetic. She says foot traffic is a crucial part of her business model.
Although it is a small store, there are many surprises as she shows this reporter all the different candies she has.
Entering the shop, off to the left is a counter where ice cream, classic soda, truffles and fudge are served.
Perakis says that she first had the idea for the shop last winter. Her grandfather, who passed away Jan. 1, 2020, was a lover of sweets and her primary inspiration.
In addition to its sentimental value, Perakis says the Sugar Exchange is the only shop of its kind in Janesville.
“So I had always wanted to be my own business owner. I’m not one who likes to be told ‘no.’ I’ve got a lot of ideas and I want to see them implemented. So the best way to do that is to own your own business. So I reached out to a couple different groups, in particular, WWBIC. It’s a Women in Business organization that’s here in Wisconsin. They’ve been fantastic. There’s a lot of online classes that you can take and webinars and stuff like that. Question and answer sessions. So they were really instrumental in the very beginning, kind of helping me come up with the basic tools I needed to start building a business plan, build cost analysis and stuff like that,” says Perakis.
Prior to opening the shop, Perakis took a few courses with Wisconsin Women’s Business Initiative Corporation, and sought help from a business coach associated with the organization.
Nancy McDonald is the economic development coordinator for the city of Janesville. Perakis says McDonald and her department aided with researching the market for other vintage candy stores in Janesville.
Perakis first went to McDonald with her idea about a year ago.
“I have to be honest, Courtney was really easy because she had pretty much everything all planned out. She already had her business plan, she had all her financials in order. From my perspective, it was easy for me from an economic development standpoint. She already knew what she needed and she had already done quite a bit of the leg work. She did research on other like-businesses, so it was very easy. And she had her own personal financial ducks in a row, so she was ready to make this leap into starting her own business. And she did, you know, the research on spaces downtown and she found one that she really liked that fit her vision and I think she made a really good choice. And like I’ve mentioned many times, she’s done a good job of marketing. So that was really easy for us. We get other business owners that aren’t, you know, quite ready to make that leap to actually opening their business or starting their business and they need to do a little more leg work. But, you know, again, that’s all part of the conversation that we have and we’re happy to have that conversation with anyone,” says McDonald.
There are two elements Perakis says makes her candy store successful. The first is friendliness, and the second is quality.
While she does order some of her supply from vendors, Perakis says everything made in store is, “as real as possible.” –meaning most of the candy uses natural ingredients.
Perakis’ personal favorite in-store confection is the Sugar Exchange’s fudge. She makes them in different flavors like raspberry and strawberry. Sometimes, when she really wants to get creative, she will add sprinkles to the mix.
Other treats made in-store are cinnamon roasted nuts, caramel apples and fudge dipped apples. The shop uses classic soda syrups, which Perakis prefers making herself–with occasional help from her husband. To make the syrups as natural as possible, they use real fruit as their first ingredient.
Speaking with the shop’s employees, this reporter listened to their views on where they see her business in the foreseeable future.
“Honestly, I’m not quite sure. But I know that with the steady stream of customers that we’ve been getting, it’s definitely going to be very popular,” says Addison Sievers.
“Well, I think it’ll be the go-to place for sweets and, you know, all kinds of treats because there’s really no place close. I think, maybe, the Dells, Lake Geneva are really the closest. So, I think it’ll do good. I’ve had customers say, ‘Well, Janesville needed a place like this.’ So, I think she’ll do really well,” says Rene de Silva.
Photo, audio and story courtesy Danielle Kronau/WORT News