Wandering around a candy shop after-hours - what could be better?
The four-month-old tour at Shane Confectionery doesn't totally fulfill that kids' fantasy - for one thing, there's a guide to stop you from eating up the candy on racks scattered throughout the 153-year-old building's three floors.
For another, this tour - like the Shane Confectionery business itself - is as much about history as it is about sweets, which means this tour resembles ones at Independence Hall and the Betsy Ross House more than Hershey's.
Our group of seven adults (including tourists from Utah and two Segway tour guides on busman's holiday) gather in the shop and are asked to sign a waiver. Because of the danger of getting fat? I wonder.
The tour starts in front of the building, and the first 15 minutes is heavy on architecture and design. Shane's is the country's oldest continuously operating candy shop, costumed tour guide Kaitlin Healy tells us, and original owner Samuel Herring located near the Delaware River to be close to shipments of sugar and cacao. The second owner also carried dry goods - hence the two big display windows reminiscent of Macy's.
Back inside, Healy points out the tin ceiling and the finials on the moldings. She explains why most of Shane's chocolates are on the west side of the aisle and the lollipops and penny candy, on the east: Chocolate was once only for the rich. The aisle kept the classes apart.
The Shane family took over in 1911 and were famous for their buttercreams. The history-loving Berley brothers bought the business and restored the building in 2010 - they also own the neighboring Franklin Fountain ice cream shop - and are known for clear toy candy and chocolate-covered salty caramels, Healy said. She brings home the point with some delicious caramel samples.
Then we climb up the narrow stairs responsible for the legal waiver to where the Berleys make the clear toys, a Penn Dutch tradition of hard-candy sculptures that double as playthings. Although clear toys were traditionally molded in the shape of animals, trucks, and Santas, Shane's also has a head-scratching drawerful of molds depicting a goat standing atop a reclining boy.
The next 20 minutes is a parade of antique candy-making equipment at rest: big copper pots to cook candy, a huge wall-mounted hook used to pull taffy, an enrober like the one in the I Love Lucy chocolate factory episode (minus Lucy and the laughs).
Healy pushes a button to make the wand on the buttercream stirrer move, but without the buttercream that would make you care. The main excitement here are the buttercream chocolate samples.
The tour's one Willy Wonka moment? When Healy lifts the lid on one of three giant warming pots to reveal a vat of bubbling dark chocolate. It's all I can do not to stick my arm in.
"Don't you dare," Healy says at the suggestion.
Even better is the building's antique wooden elevator, which Healy hauls up to the third floor from the basement by pulling on a thick rope. It's still used for moving supplies but not people, Healy says, noting that the first U.S. elevator-related death was at a New York confectioner in 1861.
Our tour ended in the cafe with an explanation of chocolate's beginnings. Healy explained: "For nine-tenths of its history - until the 1800s - chocolate was primarily consumed as a drink," and the cafe's menu of Mayan tea and Spanish, Italian, and North American cocoas is like drinking history.
Here we get a smell and taste of some shelled cacao beans (a.k.a. nibs), used to make the drinks, that Healy grinds by hand. Healy also gave the Utahs a souvenir cup of crushed nibs to take home to their kids.
As interesting as this tour might be for adults and teens, young kids like theirs would probably be much happier at home playing Candy Land or streaming the Willy Wonka movie.
6:30 p.m. Fridays, $8, reservations recommended, Shane Confectionery, 110 Market St., 215-922-1048.