TUPELO, Miss. (AP) — For 46 years, the same stainless steel kettle has popped countless batches of popcorn for customers young and old.
Started by Titus and Barbara Harris in 1972 at the old Downtown Mall, the CaramelCorn Shop has been an institution in the All-America City, where the decadent and enticing smells of warm butter and sugar mixed with popcorn have created legions of fans.
While the couple retired last year, they didn’t let the business go far out of the family’s hands. Their nephew, Jason, bought it from them last year, and three months ago, he moved the CaramelCorn Shop to Main Street, near Crosstown.
“All of my customers are slowly trickling back, because no matter how much you tell them in advance that you’re moving, inevitably not everybody will know,” he said. “Fortunately, we do have Google.”
The CaramelCorn Shop had been at Midtown Pointe — the former Gloster Creek Village — for 28 years, and changing habits was hard for many.
But customers old and new, especially new, are finding their way to the shop that still makes its signature caramel popcorn, cheese popcorn and buttered popcorn.
And the popular “Chicago-style” — cheese and caramel popcorn blended together, is also popular.
Other exotic flavors need not apply.
The main reason why Harris moved the store was to get better visibility in a high-traffic area. Midtown Pointe has transformed into a medical and professional office mall, veering away from its original design as a retail mall. That brought a change in demographic and traffic, and while business was good, Harris knew a relocation to the right spot would be beneficial.
“We’re seeing what we’re wanting to see, which is lot of new faces,” he said. “A lot of out-of-towners on Main Street will see the sign and come in, and even if they don’t, they might come back later on. We’re exposing ourselves to more people. We have a good base and a good following, but as a business, you’re constantly looking for growth.”
No worries, though, about the store’s offerings — it still sells homemade caramel apples, cotton candy, hotdogs, nachos, polish sausage, barbecue, pickles, coffee and soft drinks.
In another way to expand its presence, Harris has started selling CaramelCorn at the Tupelo Flea Market, where thousands of shoppers come from across Northeast Mississippi, as well as west Tennessee and west Alabama.
“A lot of people haven’t heard of us, and we’ve been here nearly 50 years,” Harris said with a laugh.
Jason’s father, Ken, helps out at the store, and for now, they’re the management and employees of the CaramelCorn Shop. That’s fine for now, but it sometimes makes for long days and nights, especially with the tweaks in the business model.
“We’re going to start doing outdoor festivals in the fall, along with the flea market just to get our name out there more,” Jason Harris said. “We’ve also started doing popcorn for fundraising, and there’s been a lot of interest in that. We had a big order that kept us busy for a week. That’s a good problem to have.”
With a background in sales, running The CaramelCorn Shop was an easy transition for Jason, who also grew up working with his aunt and uncle in the store.
“They still give advice every now and then, but when you’ve done it for that long, you can’t get it out of your blood,” he said with a laugh. “But I love this business and I wouldn’t want to do anything else.”
Information from: Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal, http://djournal.com