June Morris, Proprietor of the Penny Candy Shop, Remembered as Matriarch of Water Mill - 27 East

June Morris, Proprietor of the Penny Candy Shop, Remembered as Matriarch of Water Mill

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June Steinecke in her senior class photo at Patchogue High School in 1945. The description under her photo says,

June Steinecke in her senior class photo at Patchogue High School in 1945. The description under her photo says, "Tall and slender -- cooperative student -- strenuous talker."

June Morris, just out of high school, on the beach at Fire Island.

June Morris, just out of high school, on the beach at Fire Island.

June Morris, on right, with a coworker at Brookhaven Labratory.

June Morris, on right, with a coworker at Brookhaven Labratory.

The Penny Candy Shop in June of 2002.

The Penny Candy Shop in June of 2002.

The Penny Candy Shop in July of 1999.

The Penny Candy Shop in July of 1999.

June and Harvey Morris on their wedding day on June 20, 1948.

June and Harvey Morris on their wedding day on June 20, 1948.

June and Harvey Morris on their wedding day on June 20, 1948.

June and Harvey Morris on their wedding day on June 20, 1948.

Harvey and June Morris behind the counter at the Penny Candy Shop in April of 1991.

Harvey and June Morris behind the counter at the Penny Candy Shop in April of 1991.

June Morris behind the counter at the Penny Candy Shop in April of 1991.

June Morris behind the counter at the Penny Candy Shop in April of 1991.

June and Harvey Morris photographed by Charlie Muller at the opening in front of the Penny Candy Shop on September 11 of 1961.

June and Harvey Morris photographed by Charlie Muller at the opening in front of the Penny Candy Shop on September 11 of 1961.

June Morris hands out candy to children at the Penny Candy Shop in the early 1960s.

June Morris hands out candy to children at the Penny Candy Shop in the early 1960s.

June Morris with her dog Chatter at the shop in October 1990.

June Morris with her dog Chatter at the shop in October 1990.

June Morris dressed for Halloween at the store in October 1984.

June Morris dressed for Halloween at the store in October 1984.

Paddington Bear visits the Penny Candy shop in November 1979.

Paddington Bear visits the Penny Candy shop in November 1979.

Harvey Morris with his new ice boat on Mecox Bay in the winter of 1977.

Harvey Morris with his new ice boat on Mecox Bay in the winter of 1977.

Barbara Wilson and her daughter, Madison, outside the Penny Candy Shop in Water Mill earlier this month. COURTESY BARBARA WILSON

Barbara Wilson and her daughter, Madison, outside the Penny Candy Shop in Water Mill earlier this month. COURTESY BARBARA WILSON

Eileen Noonan as a teenager, donning a bunny suit in front of the Penny Candy Shop in Water Mill, flags down passersby to wish them a happy Easter. COURTESY EILEEN NOONAN

Eileen Noonan as a teenager, donning a bunny suit in front of the Penny Candy Shop in Water Mill, flags down passersby to wish them a happy Easter. COURTESY EILEEN NOONAN

Harvey and June Morris with their dog, Chatter, at the Penny Candy Shop in Water Mill.

Harvey and June Morris with their dog, Chatter, at the Penny Candy Shop in Water Mill.

authorMichelle Trauring on Feb 27, 2024

The Water Mill storefront at 696 Montauk Highway sits dark, its white facade peeling away, its once-bright, welcoming door a duller shade of red, seldom opened over the past 20 years.

Overhead, faded black, curling script reads: “Penny Candy Shop.”

Stepping inside is like entering a time capsule. The calendar is dated 2004. The candy is gone, but toys, gifts and greeting cards from the era remain. So does the big brass cash register, which only rang up as high as $3.

It is easy to remember the sun streaming through the boarded-up windows, the jingle of the bell on the door as it swung open, the wooden floors creaking as children came and went.

And, of course, the woman behind the counter.

Every day, June Morris greeted shoppers with a smile, dressed in a skirt and blouse — always dotted with a pin — her hair swept back into her signature twist. Small fingers pointed at candies, and she carefully placed them into little brown paper bags, keeping a tally of how many pennies they had spent of their nickel, dime or quarter.

She was patient with them, and kind, even as they changed their minds, looking at the mounds of candy through the glass of the wooden case. She knew all of the locals by name, and they all knew her as “Mrs. Morris” — a face of their childhoods, spanning generations.

“She really, really was the matriarch of Water Mill,” her longtime friend Barbara Wilson said. “It’s the end of an era here — the Penny Candy Shop and Mrs. Morris.”

In the early morning hours on February 7, Morris — who is remembered as not only a businesswoman, mother and wife, but also a fierce advocate, supporter of her community, and a lover of snow — died at Stony Brook Southampton Hospital. She was 96.

“A few weeks ago, when we were sitting here at her house, her and I looking out the window to a beautiful view of the Halseys’ farmland, it started to gently snow — and she was just so happy,” Wilson said. “She said, ‘Oh good, I’m gonna get to see my final snow! I just wanted to see that.’”

An Unexpected Opportunity

June Steinke was born on June 19, 1927, and grew up in Patchogue with her brother, George, and their parents, Mary and Ed, just a few blocks away from the man who would become her husband: Harvey Morris Jr.

She came from humble beginnings — it wasn’t uncommon for her to walk through the cold with holes in her shoes, Wilson recalled — and after graduating from high school, she started working with her father at Camp Upton, which would be renamed Brookhaven National Laboratory after World War II. There, she witnessed one of the first women to be “put through the tube,” Wilson said, marking the start of radioactive treatment for cancer.

After Morris returned from serving in the war, the couple reconnected and married, moving to their first East End home on Head of Pond Road in Water Mill in the late 1950s with their son, Harvey Morris III, who was 5 years old. Here, he spent long days in the sand with his mom, who was fun and bubbly, he said, and she taught him how to swim at Long Beach.

Then, an opportunity presented itself.

In the commercial heart of Water Mill, the Morrises bought a Colonial Revival-style building, originally a dress shop in the 1920s, and moved into the two-bedroom apartment in the back, while a hair salon operated out of the storefront. But within a few months, the hair salon closed, leaving the family with a mortgage to pay and no tenant.

“My grandmother would come from Patchogue and say, oh, there’s no place to get a toy for me on the way out,” Harvey Morris III said. “That’s when my mother decided to open up the Penny Candy Shop and sell toys, too. That’s where she got the idea from to do that.”

On September 11, 1961, the Penny Candy Shop opened its iconic red door — and almost immediately, it became a local institution.

A Beacon of Its Time

Jellybeans, licorice, Bazooka gum, candy buttons and cigarettes, Swedish fish and more — the Penny Candy Shop was a dessert-lover’s dream. And, as its name suggests, each piece cost just 1 cent.

Harvey Morris III became a sweets dealer of sorts, taking his friends’ lunch money and, the next day, bringing them back 35 cents worth of candy, he said.

“I was the only child, so I could go out there at 12 at night and have a root beer soda, whatever I wanted to eat, whenever I wanted,” he said. “We had no fluoride and all the candy and soda I could eat. I’m a mess — you should see my teeth.”

A trip to the Penny Candy Shop was a treat for some children, a reward for good behavior for others, and a tradition for families traveling to and from points east and west. For Erin Hattrick Meaney, it was a required stop — for her and her five siblings — after piano lessons at Villa Maria, which was once across the street.

Armed with 25 cents each, all six children carefully picked their 25 pieces of candy, she said, and she can’t remember Morris rushing them even once.

“I just always remember her smiling at us as she handed us the bag and went to the next kid,” she said. “I never saw her in any other way, other than so happy that we were so happy with our candy.”

On the weekends, Cindy Corwith took the girl she babysat to the Penny Candy Shop for breakfast, which was an ice cream cone, she recalled with a laugh. If it was busy, she’d jump behind the counter and help — as did many of the “Penny Candy girls,” as Wilson calls them.

“Once you worked for the Penny Candy, you always worked for the Penny Candy,” she said.

Wilson joined the ranks when she was 14, she recalled, and a beautiful friendship was born.

She learned about candy — the difference in licorices, what “good” chocolate tastes like — and also about life. Morris taught the young girl to be unafraid, to speak her mind loudly, and to stand up for what she believed in.

“She was a really remarkable, remarkable woman, without even knowing that she was really doing something for women,” Wilson said. “It’s women like June who made it possible for me to be able to do what I did — go to law school and become a judge and be an elected official — because, otherwise, things just don’t move forward. And she had no problem stepping out of place, and she did it for the right reasons.”

Morris kept a close eye on her customers, particularly women and young children. She acted as a community social worker, Wilson said. They knew they could come to her if they were in trouble.

“You didn’t have people talking to women about domestic violence and things like that — but June would,” Wilson said. “She’d take these women in the back, because they still had the apartment in the back, and have a cup of coffee or a cup of tea, and tell me to mind the store, and she’d have a good, hard talk with them.

“And, particularly, if a kid was showing up with some bruises or something, she didn’t have any problem making an inquiry about it.”

Her friends, customers and employees say Morris was from a bygone era — she didn’t wear pants until forced by a broken hip, Wilson said — but in some ways she was ahead of her time.

In the early 1980s, she told her husband that she had purchased a piece of land on Davids Lane in Water Mill where they would build their model home, which was quite bold at that time, Wilson said.

“We used to say, whenever Harvey Sr. got upset, he’d say, ‘I gotta go walk Chatter,’” she said, referring to one of the couple’s boxers from over the years, all of which they gave the same name, “and he would take the dog for a walk.”

“Yeah, and have a cigarette,” Harvey Morris III said.

“That was a long Chatter walk that day,” Wilson said. “This is a beautiful piece of property that she purchased and a beautiful home, and she had that kind of foresight, just like purchasing the Penny Candy Shop and making it happen.”

Through the years, the store kept up with the times and trends, carrying the latest popular toys, from Cabbage Patch Dolls to Beanie Babies. But some traditions never changed.

For decades, she kept a babysitter list by the cash register, updated with trustworthy names as she saw fit. Come October, she would put her “Think Snow” sign in the window. In March, it switched to, “Think Spring.”

One year, right around Easter time, she called on her regular customer, eighth-grader Eileen Noonan, for a favor.

“Somebody had given, or had, a costume of a bunny, and Mrs. Morris sort of asked if I would, or I said, ‘Wouldn’t it be funny if …’” she said. “And the next thing I knew, I’m standing out there on a Saturday, waving to people in a bunny costume, handing out chocolate eggs.”

When Noonan’s daughter, Allison, was around 7 or 8 years old, Morris allowed her former employee behind the counter one last time to wait on her. It was a special moment, she said, and the proprietor treasured her former employees’ children.

Wilson brought her daughter, Madison, to the shop when she was a tiny baby, and Morris held her up in the air, admiring her. And when Meaney stopped by with her children, Grace and Liam, “you would have thought that I just brought in the Prince and Princess of Wales,” she said.

“She was so excited that I had children and she said, ‘I loved that I got to see your face watching your kids pick out their candy, because it was like the face I remembered,” Meaney recalled. “She said, ‘I can’t believe the joy on your face watching your own children pick candy from the case.’”

On September 11, 2001, the Morrises expected to celebrate the store’s 40th anniversary — and, instead, faced the aftermath of the terrorist attacks alongside their neighbors. As a protest of sorts, they kept the candy shop open, adding this day to the list of historic events Morris had lived through, including The Great Depression, World War II, and the Vietnam and Korean wars.

But the next year, Harvey Morris Jr. died, Wilson said, and, two years later, his wife locked the door to the candy shop and never returned, leaving the store frozen in time.

“It will never be replaced,” Corwith said. “People keep saying, ‘Oh, somebody should buy it and keep it going as a little candy shop’ — but how? With prices today, how could you do that?”

A Life After Penny Candy

About three years ago, Meaney felt that her Southampton-based flower shop, Topiaire, was missing a certain something. She thought back to her childhood and found the answer.

She set up giant glass jars and filled them with penny candies, selling them by the piece and paying homage to a forgone time. And to honor the woman who inspired her, she ordered little brown bags for children to fill, just as she once did.

“I can only hope that I make people feel like she did, because it really was sweet,” she said. “There’s not too many people left who do that, who can be that sweet. There was nothing slick about her. She was a wonderful person.”

Not long after Topiaire’s candy shop opened, Morris stopped by to take a look. Meaney showed her all of the candy and the brown bags, vowing to never put the candy in a white one.

As she left, she gave Meaney her blessing.

“I’ve tried to keep some of her memory alive with the simplicity,” she said. “I try and be good-spirited, even when it’s for a quarter. It’s hard some days to be good-spirited for 25 cents, and she did it like nobody else. She really did. She made you feel like she had all the time in the day to pack your bag. It was a great time in our lives and she’s unforgettable.”

Morris also made an impact through her work with the Water Mill Community Club, her friends said, fighting against major developments in the hamlet. In her spare time, she volunteered as a docent during house tours, sold tickets for the Southampton Hospital benefit, posted petitions for, or against, notable issues in Southampton Town, and even made special decorations for senior luncheons with Wilson’s mother, Adel.

One involved making turkeys out of walnuts, she recalled.

“These are women in their 70s and 80s, and they’re trying to get the googly eyes stuck on, and June would just laugh,” Wilson said. “She’s, like, ‘We had eyes stuck to our hands, our clothes, our chairs. One time, your mother got up, it was stuck to her bottom.’ They would laugh and have such a good time.”

On nice summer days, they would go for joyrides — picking up a hot dog in Westhampton, yarn for their crafting, shells at the beach. They were the best of friends until Adel Wilson died in 2016.

“When my mother passed, she said, ‘I’ve gotta step up now in your mom’s shoes,’” her daughter recalled. “She’s been there through everything, all of my major life events. It’s like losing one of your best friends and a mother.”

In Morris’s final days, they talked about spirituality, she said, and Wilson promised her that she would see her mother soon. “I said, ‘She’ll be there. She’ll meet you. She’ll help you,’” Wilson said. “And I really did believe that. And I do believe that.”

After Morris died, a nurse from Stony Brook Southampton Hospital reached out to Wilson, wanting to share some of her friend’s final words.

“She told me that June said, ‘Call a cab for me, my friend’s waiting. C’mon, get the cab. My friend’s waiting. I gotta go,’” Wilson said. “So I think she was ready, and I think my mom came and those two went off for a ride. I’m sure they’re having a really good time.”

Morris is survived by her son, who lives in Colorado; Robert and Pat Morris, her brother-in-law and sister-in-law, of Pennsylvania; and many cousins and extended family on Shelter Island. In lieu of flowers, donations can be made to the Southampton Village Volunteer Ambulance, the Veterans of Foreign Wars, or East End Hospice.

On February 18, friends and family gathered at the Brockett Funeral Home in Southampton, where some of the Penny Candy girls decorated the tables in candy and Meaney provided a jar of sweets. Outside, as snow fell steadily, Wilson said she whispered to herself, “Please, June, let it stop snowing.”

Only at the Water Mill Cemetery, standing next to her friend’s gravesite, did the sun finally come out.

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