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Sweet Success in La Grange

Fifth candy store, Lilett, joins downtown confectionery market.

The downtown area is becoming the candy center of La Grange with the opening this weekend of a fifth store selling chocolates or other sweet treats.

"People love candy," said Robert Ware, executive director of the that serves La Grange. Americans eat an average of 23 pounds of candy every year per person, with Hershey's chocolate bars being the top-selling candy, he said.

Lilett Candy Gourmet Chocolate Shop, 104 W.Calendar Ave., known for its toffee, according to Ware, joined , , and in selling candy within a two-block area of downtown. Trader Joe's also sells a limited amount of candy.

Trying to explain the increase of these shops, Ware said downtown La Grange is a central location, with lots of pedestrian traffic and parking. "La Grange is an upscale community full of people with taste buds in their mouths, from kids to grandmothers."

He added, "It's a good, healthy sign that we have a good, healthy environment in this community."

Lilett, which has a shop in Brookfield with "limited hours," opened a full-service gourmet shop, according to owner Karen Gula.

Other candy shop owners praised La Grange as a good place to open a business.

"I love the area," said Julie Procich, owner of Sweetness, which has been at 21 S. LaGrange Rd. for more than a year. She had been looking at locations for two years in downtown areas of Western Springs, Hinsdale and Downers Grove. She said she loves her landlord.

John Paladino has owned We're Nuts, 8-1/2 Burlington Ave., with his two brothers for a little over six years and said they had looked all over. "We like La Grange; it's a nice town."

Jean Kuhn has owned Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory, 50 S. La Grange Rd., since 2002, when there were not as many retail stores downtown, according to Jessica Neely, store manager. "When she saw it, she thought it would be a good place to start." Kuhn and her husband, Bruce, since have opened another Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory in Orland Park.

The owners of the three shops had a variety of backgrounds.

Paladino and one brother are retired Chicago police detectives, while the other brother had a son-in-law who owned a nut-processing facility in Chicago. Kuhn worked at a marketing company. Procich managed a Hallmark store in Western Springs and was part of a management team for a restaurant.

Paladino said the brothers were, "looking for a niche." With the nut-processing background, they learned about popcorn, for which he said We're Nuts is best known.

We're Nuts sells a variety of popcorn—cheese, caramel, cheese-caramel mix, chocolate-covered, and a different flavor every day. On the day of the interview, he was selling a party mix: cherry, banana, orange and blueberry flavors.

They also sells candy and, "any nut you can process"—mixed nuts, cashews, pistachios and almonds.

Paladino claims the store has the lowest prices, because of the many children who patronize the store along with commuters. A sign on the door states, "Check out our price before you walk down the street."

If you treat the children well, they will bring back their parents, he said. The store also offers a 10 percent discount on a selected day to students of a particular area school: Cossitt Avenue School; Park Junior High; Ogden Avenue School; St. Francis Xavier; Lyons Township High School and Nazareth Academy.

It also has a small variety of sugar-free chocolate, raisins, peanuts and bridge mix.

The most popular candy at Sweetness, 21 S. LaGrange Rd., is nostalgia candy, said owner Julie Procich.

"The old-time candy is what people come in looking for. I think we're just a fun place to be."

She gets a lot of questions about whether a certain candy is still around. "A lot, we know if it's available."

The store just started stocking Curly Wurly, similar to the Marathon candy bar. On order are Bonomo Turkish Taffy-chocolate, vanilla, strawberry and banana. Blackjack, Beeman's and Clove gum come out only three times a year and she is  waiting to hear when it will arrive.

"The fun part is when people see things they hadn't seen in years and tell stories from their childhood."

Favorite candies from her childhood were Bub's Daddy bubble gum, Hershey's chocolate bars, Snaps and Good & Plenty. "I like licorice," she said. The latter two are sold in the store on the bulk candy table. Wrapped and unwrapped candy are sold in bulk.

Customers are split almost 50-50 between kids and adults, she said.

Services include a candy buffet for weddings and showers; centerpieces; goodie bags; candy bouquets and gift baskets. 

One of the top sellers at Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory, 50 S. LaGrange Rd., is its caramel apples—20 different varieties, especially in the fall season. But the caramel apples are sold year-round, said Neely, store manager for the past five months.

Besides plain and a different topping of nuts—almost everything but cashews and Macadamia nuts—some specialties are apple pie: white chocolate, cinnamon and brown sugar; and Snickers: nuts, caramel and chocolate. They also came up with their own variety: a peanut butter lover's apple- a caramel apple rolled in peanuts, covered by white chocolate and peanut butter mixed together.

In the morning, the store may get someone from a marketing or advertising company buying as many as 20 apples for a meeting or to give to customers. Corporate sales are common in the fall and winter.

Evening customers mostly are teens or people going to the movie, she said. All are  greeted outside the door by Truffles the stuffed bear. "It's an attraction," she said.

Other best sellers are English toffee and bear claws similar to turtle candy.

They sell chocolate-covered pretzels, graham crackers and potato chips; truffles; nut clusters; chocolate-covered strawberries, orange peels and cherries; frozen bananas; candy corn, gummi bears; jelly beans; hand-made fudge; and ice cream.

Neely contends the quality of their chocolate is a higher grade than even Godiva chocolate.

Sugar-free candies are English toffee, pecan bear claws, chocolate-covered pretzels and some truffles.

Fannie May, started in 1920 at 11 N. La Salle St. in downtown Chicago, operates dozens of shops in the Chicago area, including at 2 S. La Grange Rd., until its parent company went bankrupt in 2002. Alpine Confections bought the chain in 2004 and started reopening stores. In 2006, 1-800 Flowers.com bought the company.

The chain sells milk and dark chocolate; creams; caramels; mints; fudge; chocolate-covered fruit: and ice cream. No-sugar added candy is mint meltaways, assortment and Pixies.

Trader Joe's, 25 LaGrange Rd., sells tubs of chocolate and some chocolate bars.

Representatives of the candy shops say they believe all the stores will survive, as Paladino says,  "because of the unique product we have that no else has."   

"I think we're all doing well, everybody in their own distinct difference," Procich said.

Neely said, "I know a lot haven't (survived). There's no other shop like it."

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