WEST LIBERTY - Love is in the air, wrapped in chocolate and adorned in frilly pink ribbons.
Marie's Candies was already bustling with shoppers on Friday ahead of one of the biggest candy sales events of the year. On a chilly February day, the sign out front read, "Hot chocolate Friday." The candy wonderland found inside didn't disappoint.
Valentine's Day falls on Saturday, Feb. 14 and the owners and staff of Marie's are fully stocked and ready for the stampede of sweetness seekers. Vintage-inspired Valentine cards with the cherubic faces of bygone-era children, Raggedy Ann and Andy and two giant heart-shaped boxes of chocolates set the mood for shoppers.
Kathy King took time out of her busy day Friday to talk about the romantic holiday that provides her family's business the biggest single-event sales boost of all the holidays. Although the full month of December accounts for 50 percent of Marie's sales during the Christmas season and Easter brings another surge of customers, Valentine's Day on Feb. 14 in the store features its own special delights: chocolate-covered strawberries and truffles. Customers can't get enough of the limited-time treats on that single day.
King said milk chocolate is still the most popular choice among customers, who drive from around the region to claim candies with the hand-crafted creamy centers made entirely from scratch by Marie's.
"We don't just dump our fillings out of a bag like some places do," King said.
King was speaking for her busy husband, Jay, who is also a fixture in the store's popular "Depot" retail store. All the King family members, including daughter Rebecca, have their personal favorite candies. Jay likes the peanut cluster creams.
But when it comes to cooperation, it's the chocolate-covered bacon that maximizes local business synergy. The Kings go out to eat once a week at the Airport Cafe in Urbana, where they pick up 20 pounds of locally-fried bacon every Wednesday. Marie's workers then dip those salty bacon strips in chocolate, bag it up and keep it near the check-out for shoppers who can't resist the pull of pork.
Marie's was founded in 1956, but when the historic depot was added to the candy maker's site in 1993, it became a tourist destination. Although Marie's does offer shipping to far-off destinations, 95 percent of candy buyers come to the Depot itself to bask in the full chocolate experience. Employees constantly circulate with trays of irresisible samples and the large display counter allows shoppers to customize boxes with their favorites.
Article by Brenda Burns of the Urbana Daily Citizen