Palmira Nava and her late husband, Reyes, purchased the Penny Candy Store in Live Oak in 2003.

Penny Candy Store in Live Oak Dispenses Sweet Dose of Nostalgia

Store faces major changes after COVID-19 death of co-owner

Back Article Jul 26, 2022 By Steve Martarano

This story is part of our July 2022 Young Professionals print issue. To subscribe, click here.

The colorful candy-striped building located along Highway 99 in the heart of Live Oak has been a locally-owned and treasured destination for sweet tooth aficionados since the mid-1980s.

It’s the Penny Candy Store, but two cents is now the cost of the cheapest item in this confection wonderland. The little shop is stocked with countless kinds of popular and hard-to-find candies, drawing in locals and traveling visitors alike. The store features a walk-up window for customers choosing between 38 flavors of shaved ice, called Hawaiian Snow, while other unique gift items for sale are inside, making for an unforgettable visit at any age.

Carmen De la Cruz, who has worked on and off at Penny Candy for almost 20 years, stocks shelves. The store features popular and vintage treats.

“I love the Laffy Taffy; that’s what I’m going for right now,” says Antioch resident Christine Farley, candy bucket in hand, during a midday visit in May. Farley and friend Mike Lee say they’ve been stopping in for years every time they visit friends nearby.

Tragic circumstances, however, came last year to the only dedicated candy store in Sutter County, which has been owned by the Nava family for almost two decades. Reyes Nava, a native of Mexico City, his wife Palmira and son Joseph all contracted COVID-19 last summer. Joseph and Reyes were both hospitalized for several weeks, and while Joseph eventually recovered, Reyes, 67, did not. He died on Sept. 26.

“My son fought and fought to make it out, and he did,” Palmira says. “But my husband wasn’t fortunate enough to make it out.”

The store is back open, catering to its customers from noon to 5 p.m. daily. But more changes are coming — Penny Candy is up for sale. 

“We had talked about selling the store and retiring,” Palmira says, adding that Reyes thought they should wait until road and sidewalk repairs were done in front of their building before listing it. Just after the work finished, Reyes died.

“This has been a really fun place, but I just want to sell the store and move on, and be with my kids and my family,” Palmira says. “Both sides of the family are really close, and they’ve been really good to me, with a lot of support.”

The Navas were married for 38 years, buying the store from Anita and Victor Lopez in the summer of 2003 as their sons finished high school. Palmira Nava says they were the shop’s fifth owners, which was originally named Real Penny Candy under founder Iwana McDevitt. Nava, a graduate of nearby Gridley High School, received a design degree from Butte College, which helped her when she had to manage the store, she says.

“I hadn’t worked in a while but I used to work in a fabric store in Gridley and I said, well, it can’t be too different, just candy, right?” she says. “I thought I’d give it a try. I just had to learn about candy. All I knew is that I loved peanut M&M’s.”

It was a stiff learning curve and the store had its ups and downs, but the Navas hung on. Youngest son Daniel became known as “the candy guy,” and made several videos that can still be found on YouTube. Reyes Nava, who had worked for 25 years managing Gilstrap Farms before purchasing Penny Candy, also owned a pizza restaurant across the street at one time.

The business took pride in stocking hard-to-find brands. Over the years, popular items like Mary Janes or Clark bars would be off the shelves and then return, while once available items, like Fizzies drink tablets or Whistle Pops, have disappeared for good.

Nava says the business took pride in stocking hard-to-find brands. Over the years, popular items like Mary Janes or Clark bars would be off the shelves and then return, while once-available items, like Fizzies drink tablets or Whistle Pops, have disappeared for good.

The most popular current items in the store, Nava says, include Frooties and Tootsie Rolls — both are two cents — as well as Pop Rocks, Ring Pops, Nik-L-Nip juice bottles and Hawaiian Snow, which is a hit for nearby Live Oak High School students.

Nava says all the owners have been locals and she hopes that continues once there’s a buyer (listing price is $225,000). Based on the testimonials on the store’s Facebook page, generations of visitors have made the Penny Candy Store a must stop anytime they’ve come through town.

“Everyone says ‘stay, stay,’” Nava says, who admits recent back surgery has slowed down her ability to load heavy boxes and to bend over. “I’ve loved it, and met a lot of people from all over, from different cities, different countries. I’ve done this almost 20 years. I can’t believe we’ve been here that long.” 

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