Six Flags Great America in Gurnee, Il may be known for its coasters, but its candy is just as thrilling.

Six Flags Great America in Gurnee, Il may be known for its coasters, but its candy is just as thrilling.

By Crystal Lindell

Most customers at Trudy’s Sweet Shoppe, which sits on a quaint street in Hometown Square in Gurnee, Il, didn’t start their day with any intention of buying candy.

In fact, they probably had plans to falling 200 feet on a Giant Drop, or of flying 60 mph, 150 feet in the air like Superman. Or maybe they were just planning to ride five-foot waves with speeds of up to 30 mph like a Surf Rider and then drop more than seven stores into a 60-foot-tall, 132-feet-long water funnel and navigate through 5,000 gallons of churning water in a Tornado.

That’s because Trudy’s Sweet Shoppe isn’t in your typical Hometown Square - it’s in the Six Flags Great America Theme Park’s Hometown Square. Retail supervisor Brian Sternberg says there’s a heightened sense of wonder that comes with selling candy in a theme park.

“It’s different than regular retail, because there’s a lot more creative freedom,” he explains. “In regular retail, they’ll get, ‘this goes there,’ or ‘this goes there,’ but we have the freedom to kind of move things around where we want.”

The theme park - part of the national Six Flags chain - is probably best known for it’s 17 thrill rides, attached 100,000 sq.-ft. water park, and summer concerts, but that doesn’t mean the fudge, cotton candy and unicorn lollipops sold there aren’t something to scream about.

In fact, in 2010, Great America sold nearly 20,000 pieces of fudge, which are made on site at Trudy’s. That comes to more than 5,000 pounds of the candy, says Meredith Kelleher, spokeswoman for the park.

The key selling point for the homemade fudge is the huge window at the store, which is decorated like an old-fashioned nickle candy shop. The window lets theme park patrons see the fudge making process up close as they navigate their way to their next ride.

“We want to make sure we give guests that experience,” explains Brian Sternberg, a retail supervisor at the park. “They can see us making the fudge, they can see us pouring the fudge, they actually get it fresh from us. That’s one of the big, key things that we want to do. It’s not just eating it, but it’s an experience.”

The park employees start the fudge-making process by cooking a fudge base. Then, they carefully mix it with a flavoring mixture by using a spatula so the colors swirl around each other. The end result can be a bright orange and white orange creme flavor, or a pink and brown raspberry swirl.

Javier Vargas, also a retail supervisor, says the shop offers as many as 24 flavors of the treat depending on the time of year. Aside from the traditional chocolate, it also comes in maple syrup, dulce de leche, and watermelon flavors, among others.

“You can smell it, when we’re making fudge and the doors’ open and it really just lures people in here,” Vargas says. “Especially if we’re using flavoring [like] in the vanilla fudge, and the mint is so strong.”

Great America also sold nearly 9,000 caramel apples in 2010 - also made on-site in front of the large display window. Of those, 65% had peanuts and 35% were plain, Kelleher says.

Most of the apples were sold during the park’s Fright Fest activities, a Halloween celebration that the park puts on during September and October. Throughout the festival, park-goers can tour haunted houses and walk past a water display at the enterance that’s been dyed blood-red. There’s also monsters roaming the park, which helps drive up business at Turdy’s.

“People run into here, because the monster’s can’t come in here,” Sternberg says with a smile. “This is a safe zone.”

When they finally catch their breath in the shop, they’ll find caramel apples decorated with eyes and other accessories to make them fit in with the Halloween theme.

It’s isn’t just homemade treats that grab the customer’s eye though. In the 2010 season, the park sold more than 331,000 pieces of bulk candy, which create a rainbow of sugar on the walls and in the floor displays at Trudy’s.

“We have a huge selection of bulk candy - any where from Jelly Bellys to Runts, to chocolate-covered pretzels,” Vargas says.

Specifically, they offer 85 varieties of bulk candies, which sell for $2.49 for a quarter pound, plus tax.

“Most of [our business], we do at the end of the night when every one’s ready to leave,” Vargas says. “They want a snack while they’re driving in the car, maybe they drove from far away. [Also] days... when we have a lot of teenagers, it gets really, really busy.”

Of course, Trudy’s isn’t the only place in the park where thrill-seekers can get a sweet treat. The park’s staple candy is the unicorn pop, a rainbow-colored lollipop shaped like the horn of a unicorn - and they’re on sale seemingly everywhere in the park.

“You’ll see them practically in every Six Flags store, just because they’re such a good sell, a great pick-up item,” Vargas says.

And those looking to get an M&M’s fix will surely find themselves in heaven at the park’s Mporium, which almost exclusively sells M&M’s candies and memorabilia.

The shop - decorated with M&M’s light fixtures and located in the County Fair area of the park - offers M&M’s T-shirts, M&M’s cups, M&M’s pillows, M&M’s Monopoly, and of course M&M’s candies.

No theme park would be complete though without cotton candy and popcorn stands, and here Great America does not disappoint. The stands seem to dot the landscape at every turn, and both treats are made on-site throughout the day.

“[People] love eating popcorn when they’re walking through the park. It’s just part of the experience,” Vargas says. “And we like to get the message across that it’s fresh cotton candy.”

Even with all the sweets around the park, Trudy’s stands out as the place to go for candy.

“Everyone knows, if you want something sweet, you come to Trudy’s,” Vargas says. “I love working in here because I feel like a little kid, and when little kids come in here, they’re like ‘Oh my gosh!’ They look at the bulk, they look at us making the candy, it’s pretty intense.”

At the end of the day that’s what theme parks are all about - making us feel like a little kid in a candy store who’s also finally tall enough to ride the tallest coaster at the park.