Walking into Carmazzi’s
is like taking a step back into your childhood, no matter the time-period in which you were raised.
The Downtown Urbana staple is located on the corner of the historic Monument Square
, and this beloved store is a must-stop when visiting the area. Filled to the brim with any kind of sweet treat imaginable, Carmazzi’s offers a light fare lunch, penny candies and just recently added – six flavors of Hersey ice cream.
In August of 2022, Jay and Kate Johnson took over the helm of Carmazzi’s.
“It’s the oldest business – actively working business – in Champaign County,” says Kate, adding that the store dates back to 1893.
The Carmazzi family purchased the store in the 1930s. Johnny Carmazzi was the last of his family to own the store until 2014.
“It was established to be a general store, which it was until 2014 … there have only been four owners in all those years,” Kate says.
The store went through various iterations in recent years, but a previous owner took it back to a candy store/general store, which is how the Johnsons run the store today.
The Johnsons plan to make just a few small changes but they are largely keeping the store running as it has been.
“We are adding a few things … we added ice cream,” Kate says. “It’s run itself for so long, we didn’t see any reason (to change it) other than we wanted ice cream.”
While the store greets new customers with its bright cheery exterior and large welcoming front benches, Johnson estimates that 75 percent of their customer base are people who have moved out of town and come back to re-visit Carmazzi’s.
These customers visit so they can be swept away – for just a moment of nostalgia – to a happy memory of their childhoods. Customers bring their families, their dates, and their friends to gather at the store and reminisce. Carmazzi’s Facebook page
often showcases such customers who have travelled home to Urbana to visit the shop.
The Johnsons particularly enjoy hearing these stories and seeing the role Carmazzi’s has played in so many lives.
“We want to keep it as they remember it. We love hearing everything about it,” she says.
While the Johnsons are technically the new owners of Carmazzi’s, they prefer to call themselves the “caretakers” of the shop. Since the community has continued to support the shop for so many years, the Johnson’s believe the whole town has a stake in the store.
In continued dedication to the surrounding community, Carmazzi’s customers recently raised donations for the Cancer Association of Champaign County.
While the Johnsons mesh seamlessly into the community as if they were native Urbana residents, they have lived a nomadic life as a Marine Corp family – living in 22 different places over the course of three decades. After living all over, the Johnsons knew they wanted to be back in their home state of Ohio and in a smaller city with personalized charm.
After researching other small towns throughout the state, the Johnsons decided on Urbana. It was the best fit, and it became home to them.
“We absolutely fell in love with it! And here we are!” says Johnson.
The spirit of Carmazzi’s and that of its new owners’ dedication to keeping with tradition and sense of community fosters a genuine enthusiasm to connect people once more over candy and lifelong memories. It brings back something that we can all relate to – a simpler time where happiness was shared between friends and a stop at the candy store.
Enjoy this story? Sign up
for free solutions-based reporting in your inbox each week.