Even if you’ve never intentionally entered any of the dozens of IT’SUGAR locations nationwide, chances are you’ve wandered into one, maybe to beat the heat on the Las Vegas Strip, or while waiting for a table at one of the restaurants along Universal Studios CityWalk, or to incredulously check the price tag on the five-foot-tall plush gummy bear displayed in the window. The point is, IT’SUGAR is not a candy shop in the traditional sense and is not designed to be: it’s a chain of tourism-driven superstores that founder Jeff Rubin describes as being built on “attitude” as opposed to “taste.” And this month, BBX Capital Corp., majority stakeholder, announced that the chain has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. IT’SUNFORTUNATE.
“It has become necessary for IT’SUGAR to make this filing, as the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on demand, sales levels, and consumer behavior, as well as the recessionary economic environment, have had a material adverse effect on IT’SUGAR’s business,” Jarett Levan, President of BBX Capital, said in a statement. “Sales related to travel and tourism historically represented approximately 60% of IT’SUGAR sales on an annualized basis.”
In March, IT’SUGAR shuttered its approximately 100 locations and gradually reopened them throughout June and July, according to the press release. But the company was counting on rent abatements from its landlords that it didn’t receive, and there weren’t enough profits to keep the company from slipping into debt: “As of the time of the bankruptcy filing, IT’SUGAR has approximately $0.5 million of cash, $6.2 million of secured debt, and $10.4 million of unsecured liabilities, including unpaid rent obligations.”
Let’s be clear: In many ways, candy sales on the whole are not suffering as a result of the pandemic. Retailers have put out seasonal items early and extended the Halloween season in particular to boost sales, and small comforts like candy have been selling well consumers stuck at home. As a rep for the National Confectioners Association said in a statement to CNN, “The category is very resilient in this COVID-19 environment in that people are looking for simple pleasures and a little escape and enjoyment in their day to day.” So the problem with IT’SUGAR isn’t that people are buying too little candy—it’s that IT’SUGAR is barely set up to sell candy in the first place. Instead, this chain has always gravitated toward huge retail outlets and beckoned tourism dollars with tired novelties, and while it does have an online shopping component, the offerings are pretty much standard grocery store fare in more expensive packaging.
While the bankruptcy proceedings move forward, IT’SUGAR intends to continue operating its retail locations, including its Sour Patch Kids spin-off in New York City, which honestly sounds a lot cooler than any IT’SUGAR location, and I’ve been to plenty. Though I have no love for the IT’SUGAR brand of loosely defined and lackadaisically maintained “candy shops” (which harbor no interesting candies whatsoever and aren’t even serviceable Instagram traps so much as loud, glittery boxes of collateralized debt obligations), I am nonetheless a pure-hearted candy enthusiast, and I do wish to visit the Sour Patch Kids store and try the Sour Sweet Smoothie someday. Maybe IT’SUGAR will emerge from its financial woes with a renewed sense of purpose and a dedication to what really matters: the sugar itself.