SHERIDAN — As the weather turns colder and days get shorter, local candy stores prepare for one of the busiest times of the year. With Halloween in the rearview mirror, places like The Sugar Boot and The Chocolate Tree have transitioned to Thanksgiving and Christmas preparation.
Michelle Maneval, owner of The Sugar Boot, said the week leading up to Christmas is always jam-packed, particularly the two days prior. Judy Bishop, owner of The Chocolate Tree, agreed. She said people shop for Christmas options basically year-round, but December is particularly busy.
The Chocolate Tree has evolved over more than 20 years of operation. It started with basic chocolate items but now includes non-chocolate and decorative options like candles, plates, bowls, mugs, soaps and stuffed animals. Thanksgiving offerings this year include chocolate turkeys of the hollow, semi-hollow and solid varieties.
Similarly, The Sugar Boot has offered more non-edible items over the years as well, including wall art, signs, stuffed animals, Advent calendars and candy bouquets. The Sugar Boot has other specialty items in December, such as 12 days of coffee or 12 days of hot chocolate.
Maneval said the bouquets look nice and can serve as table centerpieces, which is both good and bad.
“One of the problems is they’re so beautiful you never want to eat them,” Maneval said with a laugh.
Bishop also makes custom bouquets and cornucopias if people order ahead.
“What I love about the business is since I know a lot of the customers, I think I know what they like,” Bishop said. “I’ll bring things in that I like and that they like and they can enjoy.”
Bishop said the fine chocolate industry has expanded in the last four years, allowing for a wider array of offerings. Spicy chocolate flavors, such as chipotle and jalapeño have increased in recent years as well, but the most popular kind is an old staple.
“For the holidays, the No. 1 flavor is peppermint,” Bishop said. “We have peppermint (chocolate) bark, peppermint hot chocolate. It’s just something refreshing for that time of year.”
Maneval said The Sugar Boot’s busiest season is summer, but the two days before Christmas are always bustling with people searching for last-minute gifts and stocking stuffers.
Because of the late rushes, the stores have to be prepared with enough inventory on hand. Even so, they sometimes sell out of popular items.
People of all ages come into the confectionaries, but Bishop said she has had more male shoppers in recent years. Maneval also said nostalgia is a powerful factor, especially for men, who often walk into the store with smiles on their faces.
To handle the increase in demand, The Sugar Boot is open every Sunday in December.
Likewise, The Chocolate Tree is open for longer hours on Dec. 22-24. The holiday season is busier and usually more stressful due to longer hours, so both businesses might hire part-time employees to work in December.
Bishop said it is tough to physically stock shelves and get everything priced, especially since she is the sole employee at the moment.
“To me, the sales are the byproduct of all the work,” Bishop said. “That’s the reward. You do all the work, and you envision all the projects, and you hope you can pay your bills.”
The job requires hard work, sacrifice and discipline, but the additional time and stress are worth it.
“You have to love what you’re doing first, because there is a tremendous amount of work involved,” Bishop said. “Focus and concentration and discipline and, I wouldn’t say hard sacrifice, but some sacrifice. The sacrifice is worth it in this particular business because of the joy that it brings to people.”
With calendars turned to November, candy shops have begun ramping up to provide holiday cheer.