The summer American Express launched its first credit card in 1958, Walter Lee Taylor, a native of Canton, Mississippi, began his career as a charming salesman.
During Jim Crow, Walter worked for his older cousin Henry Taylor, who had a distribution business on Bailey Avenue in Jackson, Mississippi. Henry was a master of his trade, and Walter was quick on his feet. He worked hard, and went beyond the call of duty.
In those days, money was turning over in the Black community hand to hand like it wasn’t nobody’s business, and the Taylors were key business suppliers.
“Back then I dreamed of becoming the biggest candy distributor in our state,” Walter Lee Taylor said smiling. His big thinking paid off for him. “At our business peak we had nine trucks delivering products to schools, groups, organizations, mom and pop businesses, and stores as far as 100 miles away,” Ozie Taylor noted.
Walter and Ozie met at Jackson State College (now Jackson State University), while pursuing teaching degrees, and married in 1962. After college, Walter taught math at McLaurin High School in Rankin County, and was a part-time salesman. Ozie taught English at Powell Junior High School on Livingston Road in Jackson.
“When Walter told me he wanted to give up teaching to start his own business, I supported him 100 percent,” Ozie noted. “Mama’s [Mary Gross] philosophy was, “Believe in yourself. If you don’t, who will?” They saved money, and as hard as it was, they managed to get an SBA loan in 1967 to finance their first business site on Cox Street. Ozie kept her teaching job until 1972. Then, she went behind the counter with her husband, where she has been since.
By then, Taylor’s Candy Company had full-time employees working inside their warehouse, and drivers transporting candy, confectionary, industrial supplies, and meats to stores in Jackson, Yazoo City (Ozie’s hometown), and to other enterprises.
This amazing duo has blended together like salt and pepper in Ozie’s delicious southern meals. Their marriage has lasted over 52 years, and this July will mark their 48th year in business.
The company name was displayed on a Coca Cola sign for decades. When the red background behind the white Coca Cola letters faded, they bought a new sign.
Ozie is genuine and humble, and Walter is straight forward and driven. “I met salesmen from all across the country,” Ozie recalled. “I love people,” she added.
Angela Sampson, a regular customer who buys wholesale products, said, “The Taylors offer the best prices in town. I’ve been driving across town to shop with them since 2010. The atmosphere here is warm. Their customer service is great.” Willie Evans, who owns Quick Stop Grocery a few blocks over on Hill Street, buys products from the Taylors, too.
Some of their customer base buys individual snacks. Kentarrious Roash, a 10th grader at Jim Hill High School, walked in during our interview and purchased a Faygo drink and some snacks.
African American Business Pioneer Roy Dixon often delivers their lunch which is prepared at Maxine’s Country Kitchen, a business he operates with his wife. Dixon noted, “I started selling Dixon Skins in April of 1974.” The Dixons and Taylors know the significance of networking.
Taylor’s Candy has downsized considerably over the years. “At one time, we were purchasing products from 32 companies. We buy from 10 companies today,” Ozie said. “We don’t have as much overhead as we once had,” Walter noted. “We let all of the employees go,” he added. Walter and Ozie run their business these days in an authentic mom and pop fashion. She operates the register, he stocks products, and helps customers take their wares to their car. But, male customers grab the dolly near the wall and load their own boxes.
“Jackson State was one of our biggest buyers for years,” Walter noted. And with the assistance of Dr. James C. Renick, JSU’s Provost/Senior Vice President for Academic and Student Affairs, Taylor’s Candy may realize that again. JSU leads IHL institutions with regards to minority business participation. Taylor’s Candy credits Hemphill Food Service, M & B Concessions, Beauty Within, fund raising groups, and micro businesses for helping them continue in business.
“We have enough business now to stay as long as we want to stay,” Walter said confidently. Well, one thing is for sure, Taylor’s Candy Company is well stocked. Nothing is out of place. Products are stacked neatly in each cubby. The entire building is spotless. Ozie referred to cleaning and maintaining the store in good order as “Exercise.”
Walter offers a few words of advice to anyone desiring to go into business today, “You better know what you’re doing.” Ozie contended new business owners need to be patient, willing to persevere through highs and lows, able to hold onto money, and to keep a positive attitude.”
Sure enough, every business has a bad day, or a bad season. That’s the nature of business. Business owners are risk takers. “There were days when I looked at Walter and said, ‘I’m ready to go home,’” Ozie admitted. But, Walter, who sold bags of grits during the Great Depression when he was a little boy, knows too well tomorrow will be better. “Ain’t nothing at home,” she once told him when she felt discouraged, indicating they would stay the course, and close the doors as usual at 5:30 pm.
Drive up Valley Street Monday through Friday from 8:00 am to 5:30 pm, turn on Cox Street, to your right you’re see a large sign: TAYLOR’S CANDY CO. Park in the gated parking area. Make no mistake about it, you’ll find something tasty to buy, and you’ll be mighty glad to have been served by Walter and Ozie Taylor.
The Taylors have served two generations of customers, and they are ready to supply products to your business, school, club, or group.
UPDATE: Taylor’s Candy is now in the capable hands of longtime grocer Greg Price, who worked with the previous owners for a year in 2020 before purchasing it. Because of Price’s vast experience in the food industry, he came equipped with both the boat and paddle to stay afloat through the onslaught of COVID. “We put in all the safeguards — cleaning, sanitizing, face masks, social distancing, and encouraged shoppers to get the vaccine,” said the former owner of Jackson Cash and Carry. Since taking over the “candy store that sticks with you,” Price has added a number of items that were top sellers at his grocery store, such as bakery goods and restaurant supplies. And because the store is located in both a hub zone and food desert, fresh produce won’t be far behind. His wife Pamela is sure to have her specialty goodie baskets ready for the holidays! Best wishes for the guy who strongly believes Black people should own supermarkets.