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American candy is taking London by storm

LONDON — Strolling down London’s famous Oxford Street and fancy a watermelon Jolly Rancher, a chewy Mike and Ike or the cool refreshing taste of a Peppermint Pattie? No problem.

The British capital’s busiest shopping area is now a haven for sweet tooths with a taste for American candy.

In less than a square mile there are now nine mega candy stores, with names like American Candy World, American Candy Land, Candy Surprise and Kingdom of Sweets — which claims to be the first of its kind.

You don’t have to look too hard to find them. With some of the highest retail rents in the city, they stand out for their bright colors and elaborate designs. One even makes sure the sensory overload is complete by piping out the sweet-smelling aroma of bubblegum to entice customers inside.

The American Candy Land store in central London is one of nine mega candy shop selling American candy within less than a square mile. Jason Alden / Bloomberg via Getty Images

Shokofeh Hejazi, a food trends expert, calls the craze “edible escapism.”

“Consumers are looking for comfort and nostalgia these days,” she said, adding that they have a “strong sense of borrowed nostalgia” from the States.

“They grew up watching American TV and films and watched their favorite characters eating things like Twinkies, Pop-Tarts, Tootsie Rolls and Hershey’s chocolate,” she said.

It’s not just London: Demand for American sweets has skyrocketed throughout the U.K., particularly during the last year.

Hancocks, a British confectionery wholesaler with the biggest range of U.S. brands in the U.K., said they saw a significant spike in demand for American sweets and snacks in the last year.

“Over the last 12 months we’ve seen a notable increase in demand for American confectionery,” the wholesaler that sells to over 25,000 independent retailers told the trade journal Confectionery Production in June. “We have been stocking brands from the U.S. for over 20 years and over the last 12 months have seen a big increase in demand.”

This sort of demand is driving some convenience stores, known locally as “newsagents,” to specialize in American candy.

Faizal Ravat, owner of the Hollywood Candy Store in London’s Stoke Newington neighborhood, stands in front of his wares.Petra Cahill / NBC News

When Faizal Ravat, 30, took over ownership of a small store in the hip East London neighborhood of Stoke Newington about three years ago, he tried several other business ideas — from a typical British grocer to an organic Whole Foods model — before landing on American candy and snacks.

“Once we got into candies, we had people coming and saying, ‘Hang on, where are the snacks?’”

Now Hollywood Candy is a full-blown American candy and junk food emporium.

His stock of retro American candy and junk food would be impressive if his shop was in New York City, nevermind a corner of London. His offering includes everything from Hostess Sno Balls to Cap’n Crunch to Froot Loops to Jello mix.

From Jolly Ranchers and Sour Patch Kids to Milk Duds, the Hollywood Candy Store in London’s Stoke Newington neighborhood has got it all.Petra Cahill / NC News

The U.K.’s numerous Covid-19 pandemic lockdowns had a silver lining for Ravat, who said they were a boon for business. “Once the lockdown came, we did really well,” he said.

Now he’s got customers — both kids and adults — who come from other cities miles away just to get their sugar or snack food fix.

One diehard fan comes every two weeks, bicycling or jogging from Battersea Park, a neighborhood about 8 miles away in southwest London, Ravat said. The man fills up a knapsack with American groceries and candy.

“He loves Reese’s!” he said.

On the other side of the city in the suburb of Kew, Pav Singh, 25, also recently converted part of the convenience store he runs with his father to stock more American candy.

“I have run a business for almost 7 to 8 years, it’s all about keeping up with the trends,” he said.

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Both Singh and Ravat also credit social media trends for the upsurge in interest for American candy, particularly a series of TikTok challenges, like the #JellyFruitChallenge craze, which saw social media users sucking and swallowing a jelly straw at the same time and has had over 101 million views. Another featured people biting into oversized gummies.

Once the challenges go viral they said people come into their stores asking for specific candies.

“Whatever is trending will always run through,” Singh said. “Platforms like TikTok have given American candy a boost.”

Ravat said he keeps up with the trends through his kids and his own social media presence.

He said the biggest sellers are Sour Patch Kids, Mike & Ike and Swedish Fish. “Sour, especially kids, they tend to go for sour,” he said.

However, that jolt of American nostalgia will cost you. A small bag of Reese’s Pieces costs 1.49 pounds, or $2.04.

That’s more than twice as much as a typical British chocolate bar would run you at about 0.79 pounds, or $1.08.

That’s how Ravat, who has never been to the U.S., is really living the American dream.

“When we started and we were a newsagent, we were dead,” he said. At the time, he said the total sales per customer was about 2 pounds ($2.73) and now it’s 8 to 10 pounds ($10.93- $13.66).

“I just wish I had a bigger shop,” he said.

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Minnesota wildfire doubles in size, creates its own weather

A wildfire in northeastern Minnesota more than doubled in size Tuesday, growing to more than 19,000 acres, after it produced pyrocumulous clouds that generated lightning and even raindrops, fire officials said.

The Greenwood Fire’s growth, most of which happened Monday afternoon, prompted firefighters to leave McDougal Lake, about 80 miles south-southwest of Duluth, officials said. Authorities fear that structures might have been destroyed or damaged.

“We had crews embedded, and as this fire took off, it was quite an effort to communicate with forces on the ground so they could get out,” said federal fire incident spokesman Clark McCreedy.

The pullout was a success, and no injuries were reported. However, downed trees and necessary cleanup mean crews have been unable to assess damage around the lake, McCreedy said.

In addition to the firefighter pullout, 159 dwellings were evacuated Monday, according to an update from the National Wildfire Coordinating Group. Cabins, homes and recreational sites remain under threat, the group said.

Patrick Prochaska, a Minneapolis resident who built a cabin near McDougal Lake in 2012, told NBC affiliate KARE that he watched via security camera as flames mostly bypassed his property Monday, causing minor damage.

“I was feeling very scared,” he said. “At the same time, I could see that it was not doing anything to the house, and it was kind of reassuring.”

The fire in and north of Superior National Forest has mostly performed according to the weather, fire officials said. On Monday, with dry fuel on the ground and temperatures in the high 80s, it was an expanding inferno punctuated by strobes of lightning.

“The winds were drawn into the fire from all directions,” the incident’s fire behavior analyst, Michael Locke, said in a video update Tuesday. “It created what we call pyrocumulous clouds. And really high in the atmosphere … you’d see a thunderstorm, and in fact they went high enough to produce a few sprinkles of rain and even some lightning.”

Temperatures dipped into the mid-70s Tuesday, and the blaze mellowed. “The real story was cloud cover and cooler temperatures,” McCreedy said.

More of the same, and possibly rain, was in the forecast, giving officials hope that they might be able to close the book on an unusually active and dry fire season in Minnesota.

Experts have said climate change has set the stage for extreme weather, including an increase in the frequency and intensity of wildfires in the Northern Hemisphere.

Firefighters — 426 were assigned to the Greenwood event — have been confronted with “prolonged, severe drought,” making parts of Minnesota look like the fire-prone West this summer, McCreedy said.

The Greenwood Fire, which was detected Aug. 15, is believed to have been sparked by lightning.

So far, firefighters have scored no containment, and areas including McDougal Lake, Sand Lake and the Highway 2 corridor have been under mandatory evacuation orders. The federal Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness was closed Saturday “due to active and increasing fire activity, extreme drought, limited resources,” the National Forest Service said in a notice.

Officials set a goal of Sept. 1 for full containment.

“We’re probably going to get more of that moderating weather for the rest of the week,” McCreedy said. “That opens the door for fire crews to make progress on the ground.”

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Hiker survives grizzly bear attack at Denali National Park

A tourist from Indiana was attacked and injured by a grizzly bear at Denali National Park and Preserve in Alaska on Monday night, park officials said.

The 55-year-old tourist, whose name was not released, was hiking alone in dense fog in the Thoroughfare Pass area when a mother bear and multiple cubs charged him from nearby bushes, the National Park Service said in a statement Tuesday.

He had puncture wounds to a calf, his left ribs and his left shoulder, the agency said.

The victim used bear spray that might have cut the attack short, the park service indicated. He walked 1.5 miles to a visitor’s center where “medical personnel” vacationing at Denali treated him as a park bus driver called 911, it said.

The hiker was taken to a medical center near the park before he was transferred to Fairbanks Memorial Hospital, about 120 miles away, park officials said. He was stabilized at the Fairbanks hospital, they said.

“Due to the apparent defensive nature of this attack, there are no plans to locate the bear involved,” the park service said. “Female bears with cubs are naturally defensive of their young, especially when surprised. There is no indication that this bear is unusually dangerous.”

Grizzly bears are federally protected as a threatened species in the lower 48 states. According to the National Wildlife Federation, fewer than 1,500 grizzlies are left in the lower 48, but they thrive, comparatively, in Alaska, where they have a population of about 31,000.

The backcountry area of the attack is closed for one week as a precaution, the park service said.

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House passes John Lewis voting rights bill, sends measure to Senate for tougher fight

House Democrats on Tuesday passed a sweeping voting rights bill named after Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga., the late civil rights icon.

The John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act was approved 219-212. All Republicans voted against the legislation.

The bill is part of congressional Democrats’ broader campaign to strengthen voting laws at the federal level to fight restrictive voting laws passed in Republican-led states, such as Texas and Georgia. However, it faces steep opposition in the Senate, where Democrats hold a wafer-thin majority.

The House returned from its recess this week to take up the bipartisan infrastructure bill and a resolution for Democrats’ $3.5 trillion budget package, which includes funding for much of President Joe Biden’s legislative agenda. The procedural motion used to pass the multitrillion-dollar resolution paved the way for the House to vote on the voting rights bill, which was re-introduced last week by Rep. Terri Sewell, D-Ala.

The legislation would require states with recent histories of discrimination to get federal “preclearance” to change their voting laws, which directly addresses the Supreme Court’s 2013 ruling in Shelby County v. Holder. The ruling gutted the preclearance system in the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which civil rights advocates argue was successful in blocking proposed voting restrictions in states and localities with histories of racial discrimination.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said in a statement last week that Congress had “not only an ironclad Constitutional mandate, but a moral responsibility” to pass the bill.

Shortly before its passage, Pelosi said on the House floor that the bill would honor Lewis’ legacy.

“We should have the right to vote and shouldn’t be diminished by anyone. It is unpatriotic to undermine the ability of people who have a right to vote, who have access to the polls,” she said. “As John knew, this precious pillar of our democracy is under attack from one of the worst voter suppression campaigns since Jim Crow.”

It isn’t the first time House Democrats have tackled election law. In March, House Democrats passed the For the People Act, a sweeping bill that seeks to change campaign finance, voting and ethics laws.

The bill would expand access to the ballot box by creating automatic voter registration across the country by registering eligible voters whenever they interact with government agencies, restoring the voting rights of the formerly incarcerated, expanding early voting and modernizing the country’s voting systems.

However, Senate Republicans filibustered the voting rights legislation in June, and the vote to advance an amended version of the For the People Act split along party lines 50-50, short of the 60 votes needed. All Democratic-aligned senators voted to begin debate, and Republicans unanimously voted to block the bill.

Passage of the voting measure was the final vote of the week for the House, whose members are leaving Washington and won’t return until Sept. 20.

Haley Talbot contributed.

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