PISIEK, N.D – The J -Mart grocery store in Pisek has the strategy of how to safely carry on its Christmas candy sales tradition in the bag.

J-Mart owner Francis Jelinek and his family, wearing masks and gloves, last month scooped up tons – 4.75 tons, to be exact – of candy and put it in 1-pound plastic bags.

Sixty-five varieties of the bagged candy, from chocolate-covered espresso beans, to peanut butter malted milk balls to gummi Santas, sit in two back-to-back rows of boxes that stretch from just beyond the front door of the store to the back. Next to the long aisle of mostly chocolate candy, more boxes of old-fashioned hard candy – including ribbon, filled raspberry and filled straws – sit on shelves.

Mary Alexander and Laurie Tostenson, sisters from Devils Lake, arrived at J-Mart mid-morning Thursday, Nov. 12, to do their holiday candy shopping.

“I’ve been here every year for five years,” Alexander said. “The best candy in the country.”

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Alexander and Tostenson didn’t have any favorites – just an overall appreciation for the dozens of offerings.

“We like it all,” Tostenson said.

The sweet confections during the holiday season have been a tradition at J-Mart every year since 1945. That year, their parents bought a few kinds of cream-filled candies to sell, and, over the next 52 years, increased the amount and varieties of candy they sold during the holidays.

Francis Jelinek and his brother, Dominic, continued the candy tradition, with the help of family members, after they bought the J-Mart store from their parents in 1997. They maintained the store’s loyal candy customers and gained new ones.

The quantity of Christmas candy J-Mart sold grew from about 30 pounds in 1945 to a record 12,239 pounds in 2016. Sales during the next three years dropped by a few hundred pounds, and this year, the Jelineks ordered 9,500 pounds of candy, which arrived at the store in 550 boxes.

The past few years, sugar-free candy has been increasing in popularity, and this year J-Mart has several varieties of it for sale, including bridge mix, coconut haystacks and mint-flavored meltaways, Jelinek said.

The J-Mart usually sells 75 varieties of candies, but this year has 10 less because some, such as chocolate-covered raisins, were unavailable as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. Fortunately, there are plenty of chocolate-covered peanuts, a J-Mart customer favorite, available – about 800 pounds of them.

The family began preparing for the holiday candy sales in July, when they marked and priced about 18,000 plastic bags. They filled the bags with candy in early October and began selling mid-month. Masked customers don gloves to pick up the pre-bagged candy.

Besides the candy, J-Mart also sells several flavors of cheeses, whole nuts and pickled herring during the holiday season. The pickled herring, which comes to the store in 45-pound buckets, is divided for customers into 1-pound bags. The herring also is a draw for some J-Mart customers.

“Some of the best pickled herring anywhere,” Francis Jelinek said.

Whether customers come for the seasonal food items or are regulars, Jelinek is grateful for their business.

“We appreciate all of the customers coming during this time period. This wouldn’t be possible without our customers throughout the year supporting our grocery store,” he said.