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The Sweetest Sober Sanctuary for LGBTQ Youth in Hillcrest

Candy Pushers’ first queer owners rebranded the 27-year-old shop as safe place for teens in a bar-heavy gay scene
Candy Pushers, Hillcrest, San Diego
Photo Credit: Mateo Hoke

Shannon Dove, co-owner of Hillcrest candy store The Candy Pushers, isn’t a sweets person—but she assures me that digging sugar isn’t a requirement for running a candy shop. What you have to love, she says, is selling candy. “It’s the most amazing thing to see somebody come in and you can tell they’ve had a bad day, and by the time they get their bag of candy and come to the register, they have a smile on their face,” Shannon explains.

Shannon found her passion for vending treats at Hillcrest shop Candy Depot, where she was a sales associate for three years. She departed Candy Depot to launch a mobile candy business with her wife, Melissa Dove, slinging sweets at Pride events and music festivals—then the pandemic struck.

But as stores started to open back up, the Doves received a call from the owners of Candy
Depot, who told them that they’d decided to pivot their careers. “[They said,] ‘Would you be willing to take over a brick-and-mortar?’” Shannon recalls. “I turned to Melissa and I said, ‘Is it absolutely irrational and impulsive right now to just say yes?’”

“I said, ‘F- no,’” Melissa chimes in. “‘This is our dream knocking on the door.’”

The couple became the first LGBTQ owners of the 27-year-old Candy Depot in 2020, eventually renaming it The Candy Pushers and moving to a larger location on University Avenue.

Beyond treating sweet tooths, the couple aims to provide a sober, LGBTQ-friendly space in a bar-heavy gay scene. They host game nights, comedy shows, open mics. “Having something for [LGBTQ youth] to do in Hillcrest is so important,” Shannon says. “They can be around other gay people and see that it’s going to be okay, that there’s a community for them.”

By Amelia Rodriguez

Amelia Rodriguez is San Diego Magazine’s Associate Editor. The 2023 winner of the San Diego Press Club's Rising Star Award, she’s covered music, food, arts & culture, fashion, and design for Rolling Stone, Palm Springs Life, and other national and regional publications. After work, you can find her hunting down San Diego’s best pastries and maintaining her three-year Duolingo streak.

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