The overwhelming smell of chocolate in Dairy Fresh Candies is enough to make you want to stay awhile. Like something out of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, the tiny store on Salem Street in Boston's North End is packed ceiling to floor with sweet, savory treats of all kinds.

To the right of the door are hundreds of bags of jelly candies -- gummy bears, peach hearts, candy grapefruit slices, and, if it's February, bright-red cinnamon gummy hearts. On the left side of that aisle are the slightly healthier options -- dried fruit and nuts and bags of crunchy sesame sticks -- all of which look tasty but are not why I visit. I walk straight to the back of the store, where you can find $5 bars of dark chocolate from somewhere in Europe where they know that chocolate shouldn't be made with reduced sugar or reduced fat. One bite alone is worth an entire Hershey's bar.

To the left of the door is the by-the-pound chocolate and fudge counter as well as an array of edible gifts like fancy green-olive-oil gourmet cookies and "tipsy" bourbon-soaked cherries. Tucked into little corners of the store are things that you never knew you needed but that suddenly you can't leave without: imported Italian espresso, bars of torrone (an Italian nut-studded nougat), Ghirardelli cocoa, jars of black-olive spread.

Amidst rough-cut bricks of dark baking chocolate, the smiling proprietor rings up purchases on a manual cash register. He wears an impish grin, like a real-life version of Willy Wonka.

I rarely leave Dairy Fresh Candies without a few dollars' worth of unnecessary calories, and I always leave with a smile, like a kid in a candy store.

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Published on: Jun 12, 2002