Sweet Memories captures 1950s atmosphere

Sweet Memories

Owner: Shari Kirby.

Address: 454 West Fourth St.

Phone: 563-556-0445.

Services: Candies, ice cream and gifts.

By walking into Sweet Memories in the Cable Car Square District, patrons are swept back to the 1950s.

The decor, the conversations — don’t ask for soft serve ice cream like they have at other places — and the atmosphere are intended to harken back to that era.

“We’re in the ’50s here, don’t be asking me those kinds of questions,” owner Shari Kirby quipped. “People walk in and say, ‘Oh my god, this is an old time shop.’”

Adjacent to the Fenelon Place Elevator, Sweet Memories, 454 W. Fourth St., has been in Kirby’s family for 23 years. Kirby said her husband wanted to buy the shop despite already having a wallpaper and painting business.

“In the long run, it was a very good decision,” Shari Kirby said. “My husband got sick with cancer, and we had to phase the other one out. This one I could handle.”

Plus, the previous owner, according to Kirby, offered to keep working at the shop after he sold it. The building on West Fourth Street was the home of the previous owner’s mother-in-law.

“When she passed away, he turned it into a candy store,” she said.

He later added ice cream — an aspect of the shop Kirby continues to this day, particularly with the popular Superman flavor.

“I think we sell twice as much Superman as any flavor in the summer,” she said, noting that children who grew up in the area now return as adults still asking for Superman (a concoction of blue raspberry, cherry and lemon).

But it’s Dubuque tourism that “really keeps me going,” she said.

“People like to look at the old buildings,” Kirby said. “Our building was built in the 1860s.”

Dubuque attracts more than 1.5 million tourists annually, according to reports.

In the two decades and change of ownership, Kirby has only spent money on a single advertisement — a coupon in the Dubuque Advertiser.

“Not one time (did a) coupon come back. I paid for that for the whole month, not one person brought in a coupon,” she said, proving that the Fenelon Elevator foot traffic is key.

While the shop officially closes at 5 p.m., Kirby said there are days where she’ll keep serving customers until 9 p.m.

Through the years, she has added “all kinds of things” to the menu, including an increased variety of homemade chocolates. Sweet Memories also offers what Kirby called “a whole menagerie of items,” such as Dubuque souvenirs, gourmet popcorn and vintage toys.

Other sweets include fudge and almond toffee — plus mix-and-match jar candies that she said are a big hit with children.

Interacting with customers is the most enjoyable aspect of owning the shop.

“We’re closed in the winter. We’re definitely seasonal. But I get tired by the end… then when spring comes, I’m like, ‘Oh my God, I’m ready to go right back at it,’” Kirby said. “I will be 77 in August. My whole family (asks), ‘Are you ever going to retire?’”

But she has fun every day — for herself and for the customers.

“If indeed you do something for your job you enjoy, you’ll never work a day in your life,” she said. “It comes down to that.”