We drove past the sign while heading south on I-95. It announced the exit coming up in 3 miles. I looked over at Honey as she drove, my eyebrow raised wondering if she had seen it too.
She felt my gaze and the resulting grin that she fought unsuccessfully to hide gave her away. Obviously we were both thinking the same thing; We should probably check it out.
Until seeing that sign I had no idea the place even existed, let alone that we’d be driving past it on our way to New York.
Too bad we had other places to be, I thought. But mentally, both the little kid and the romantic in me were jumping up and down on the car seat screaming, Oh Pleeeeeease? I wanna, I wanna, I wanna!
The calm mature me spoke first, “Maybe if we have time on the way back.” Honey nodded in agreement. End of story, or so I told myself.
We continued along, both knowing we’d probably be taking the faster, more direct route up I-87 on the way home. We wouldn’t pass this way again.
Another sign announced the exit now in 2 miles. The 8-year-old in my head even louder and more insistent, PUHLEEEEASE?
I looked over again and asked, “How often do you get the chance to visit the Pez factory?”
“Never.” Honey replied, “But we’re here now so…”
“What the hell.” I laughed, finishing her sentence. “We’re not in a hurry, let’s go”.
As we exited the highway a mile further down my inner child was just giddy, and the grown-up me was grinning from ear to ear. Hey, it’s not often you get to visit a place where both childhood and relationship memories are made.
I don’t know how it is elsewhere, but if you grew up in North America and are over the age of thirty or have kids of that age, chances are you’ve owned or bought at least a few Pez dispensers in your time.
As we grew into adolescence and moved on to more mature pursuits, our Pez friends were set aside. Dumped in the back of a sock drawer where they were forgotten and eventually tossed in the trash.
In our case the Pez dispenser also has a place in the history of our relationship as a couple.
Back before we started dating one of the very first conversations we had where we really connected was about the Seinfeld episode where Jerry makes Elaine laugh out loud in the middle of a piano recital by offering her candy from his Tweety-Bird Pez dispenser.
Our conversation continued that evening with both of us sharing personal experiences and childhood memories. Years later we both agreed that was the moment we realized how much we had in common, and how much we enjoyed each other’s company.
We began dating not long after, and I guess my Pez memories left an impression because the very first gift Honey ever gave me was a Bart Simpson Pez dispenser as a reminder of the conversation that broke the ice and eventually brought us together.
That was over twenty years ago and yes, I still have Bart stored in a safe place along with other important mementos from my past.
Now as we pulled into the parking lot, I jumped out of the car snapping pictures like an excited kid. We approached the ticket counter and I calmed down enough to act like a grown-up while Honey bought the tickets; asking for “Two adults please”, complete with finger quotes on the word Adults!
Admission costs $5.00 for Adults – $4.00 for groups of ten or more, seniors and kids from three to ten years of age, and it includes a $2.00 discount on purchases in the Pez store.
If like me you stop to read all of the displays, the self-guided tour takes about an hour.
You can get all of the details from the website here, but the tour includes interesting tidbits and Pez history, and a great look at some rare memorabilia.
There’s also a window onto the factory floor where you can see how the tablets are pressed and packaged at the rate of several thousand packs per hour, and there’s lots of opportunity for visitors to browse and buy some of the latest Pez products.
Among the things I learned during our visit:
- Pez was originally started as a breath mint by Edward Hauss III in Vienna, Austria in 1927.
- Santa Claus is the most popular Pez dispenser of all time. Mickey Mouse is second.
- The actual dispenser only came along in the late 1940’s and was intentionally shaped like a cigarette lighter in an attempt to encourage people to use Pez mints rather than smoke cigarettes.
- There’s a worldwide network of collectors for this stuff, and some of the older rare dispensers are actually worth hundreds, and in some cases even thousands of dollars.
Now if only I hadn’t let mom throw mine out all those years ago…but who knew?
In the store most of the individual dispensers sell for $1.99 complete with a few packs of candy refills. The larger collectors’ sets can go from $25.00 to $40.00 each, and I can tell you from experience that unless you have someone there to temper your enthusiasm, it’s real easy to get carried away and spend too much.
I was really tempted to go for either the Star Wars or Lord of The Rings collections – hey, maybe even both! But I looked up to see Honey giving me that, Oh really? headshake/stare, and I snapped back to being a grown-up right quick 🙂
The next time you’re on I-95 just south of New Haven, CT you too may want to let your inner child out to play for an hour or so.
Located at 35 Prindle Hill Rd, in Orange CT – the PEZ Visitor Center is open seven days a week and welcomes kids of all ages.