If you have walked down Main Street in Butler anytime within the last 110 years, you’ve most likely seen or passed under a red and white striped awning jutting out above the sidewalk. A look through the painted windows will tell you that this is Cummings Coffee and Candy, a Main Street business that has been around for a lot longer than you might think.
Peter Cummings emigrated from Sparta, Greece in the late nineteenth century. He traveled around the country, stopping in cities like New York and Chicago, taking in his new home and its culture. He settled down finally in the 1890s in Butler and decided to open a confectionary. In 1905, Cummings Confectionary opened its doors to the citizens of the growing town, offering hand crafted chocolates and peanut brittle.
The pairing of candy and Greek immigrants may seem strange to some folks today. Why come all the way to the United States just to sell chocolate to Americans? When asked this question, Barry Cummings, the current owner of the shop, laughed and said that it was “what [his] family knew and brought over from their homeland: food.”
Pete Cummings seemed to have a knack for what he did. Around 1915, Pete’s brothers, William and Eugene Cummings, came from Sparta to join their brother and his thriving business. Soon thereafter, Pete purchased a property at 146 N Main Street, where the shop still sits today and renamed the business Cummings Candy. Over the course of the 1920s, the inside of the shop was outfitted with rich, dark brown mahogany booths and counters, glass display cases for the chocolates, and a brand new soda fountain.
Walking through the shop’s door today, one can still see all of these aged details, well maintained and preserved. When William Cummings’ son Tom took over the business in 1955, he thought about remodeling in the latter years of 1950s. But, as Tom himself put it in a newspaper article in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette from March 23, 1978, “I don’t think I’ll ever change the place. Everyone likes it the way it’s always been.”
Tom was known as “Butler’s Candyman,” an accurate name since he spent most of his life working in it, outlasting multiple generations of customers. It was typical for him to work 14-hour days, spending at least five or six hours a day creating the chocolates and ice creams that kept people coming through the door. But, like every long-lived business, a drop in customers in the 1970s and 80s hit this small-town shop hard.
When the factories in Butler closed down, such as the Pullman factory, families had to move out of Butler to find work. It also didn’t help that a major entertainment venue, the movie theater on Main Street, closed down, leaving the shop with few coming in during the evening hours. Even today, Barry Cummings says that he misses those times, seeing the neon light up the street at night as teenagers came in for milkshakes before they went to see a movie.
Then in the 1995, Barry joined his father in running Cumming’s Candy and had an idea to revitalize the shop: coffee. Selling not only plain coffees but flavored ones and specialty lattes, Cummings took back some of its previous business. The shop was open early in the mornings instead of late at night, encouraging people on their way to the office to stop in and grab their favorite hot drink for their commute. Still selling chocolates of all kinds, peanut brittle, and homemade ice cream, Cummings Coffee and Candy is the oldest family-run business in Butler County.