Sweet smell of commerce

Two candy stores ready to open downtown

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Candy lovers in Steamboat Springs get ready: The sweet aroma of freshly made chocolate soon will be drifting through the streets, and the rows and rows of brightly colored candies soon will be seen through store windows.

Two Fuzziwig's Candy Factory stores are opening up in Steamboat Springs in spots previously home to Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory stores -- one downtown and one in Ski Time Square -- and a new Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory store is opening in downtown Steamboat Springs. The openings, which are planned for this weekend or early next week, come about three months after the previous stores closed.

Although the two candy businesses will compete for some customers, they are different enough that they actually complement each other, said Don Grueser, CEO of Fuzziwig's Candy Factory. Both candy shops often can be found in the same mall or shopping center in locations across the nation.

The priority of Fuzziwig's is to offer fun and variety -- it started with 200 types of candy, but "we learned that 400 is what makes us special," Grueser said.

Although Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory also focuses on variety, its top goal is to offer the best tasting and freshest chocolates and treats possible.

Brad Maxwell, co-owner of the new Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory store, called the chocolate "some of the world's best."

Downtown's candy history

In Steamboat Springs, which is home to the Fuzziwig's corporate offices, the two candy companies have an intertwined history.

Grueser and his wife bought Steamboat's two Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory stores in 1992. They were from Chicago but knew they wanted to live in a mountain town. While driving through Steamboat Springs, they learned that the chocolate stores were for sale and jumped into the business.

The couple used to sell shoes. That business was full of complaints: shoes that hurt or pinched or just didn't fit right, Grueser said.

The candy business, however, is full of smiles, he said.

"When (customers) come into a candy store, they come in smiling and they leave smiling," Grueser said. "That's the great part about a candy store."

In 1998, the couple bought the Fuzziwig's company, which had been owned by Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory. At that time, Fuzziwig's had 13 stores. The couple kept their offices based in Steamboat and grew the company to 20 stores, then began franchising.

Two years ago, they sold their two Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory stores, but kept ownership of the store buildings. This year, Grueser took the buildings back and decided to open Fuzziwig's candy shops.

It just makes sense that a Fuzziwig's store would be in Steamboat because that's where the business is based, said Matt Cardille, Grueser's son and co-owner of the downtown store.

Brad and Todd Maxwell, who own Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory stores in Vail and Breckenridge, recently were contacted by Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory to open up a store in Steamboat Springs after the company learned the previous stores were going to close. The brothers found a new downtown location along Lincoln Avenue between Sixth and Seventh streets and are set to open this weekend.

Fun at Fuzziwig's

A wide selection at Fuzziwig's, from licorice snaps to candy Legos, and from 1-pound jawbreakers to gourmet, hand-crafted chocolates, is what sets the store apart, Cardille said.

The M&M Colorworks machine lets customers choose from 20 different colors of M&Ms, while another machine lets them make their own pixie sticks out of a dozen flavors.

"Everyone likes to make their own stuff, except for, like, dinner," Cardille said.

There is a huge selection of old-fashioned, classic candies that many people haven't seen for years. Customers get a kick out of finding those treats and then buying one for their own children, making a link from past to present.

"It's just fun," Cardille said. "Everybody that comes in has a great time with it."

The Fuzziwig's design is brightly colored, with bins and bins of different candies lining the walls, and pipes and wheels and whistles representing the imaginary candy factory that is supposed to sit behind the backdoor of every Fuzziwig's shop.

The name Fuzziwig's comes from the legend of Professor Fuzziwig, who -- as legend has it -- invented candy.

"Our specialty is all the fun confectionary stuff of the world," Grueser said.

The concept is reminiscent of old, penny-candy stores. At Fuzziwig's, kids can come and say, "'Today I have a quarter, what can I get,'" Grueser said. "And there's lots of stuff they can get."

Rocky Mountain tradition

The first Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory was started in 1981 by a man who had a dream of raising his family in Durango.

Now, the company has a huge chocolate factory just outside of Durango and hundreds of franchised stores across the United States.

When Brad Maxwell and his wife were transferred from Jackson, Wyo., to Ohio, they began looking for any opportunities that would get them back to the Rocky Mountains. In 2000, they found out about a Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory for sale in Vail through Brad's brother Todd.

"We thought it would just be perfect for us," Brad said.

Brad had experience in the hotel business, and his wife had experience in retail, so they, along with Todd, decided to give it a try.

They've been happy about that decision so far.

"Primarily, it's in the tourist area, so everyone is always in a good mood," Brad said about what he enjoys about the business. "And secondarily, it's the whole chocolate aspect."

With the hotel business, people often had complaints about their room or needs, Brad said, but with chocolate, it's pure enjoyment.

"People buy it, they like it, and they say this is the best whatever I've ever had," Brad said.

The team successfully doubled the Vail stores' sales and bought the store in Breckenridge in 2003 and then were recently invited by the Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory to open a Steamboat store.

The secret to the store's chocolate is that it is fresh and is made with "all the best ingredients that money can buy," Brad said.

About half of the chocolates are made in the Durango factory, and the rest are handmade daily in the store's kitchen, which is visible from the sidewalk in front of the store.

Visitors will be able to watch apples being dipped in sweet, chewy caramel, different flavors of fudge being spread into pans, and pretzels being dunked in warm, melted chocolate.

They will be able to smell the chocolate, even from outside, as an exhaust panel shuttles the sweet smell into the street.

The new store is bigger than the previous Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory, so more types of candy will be offered. Ice cream and milk shakes also will be available, along with a full coffee bar.

The store offers a wide variety of made-to-order gift baskets that are perfect for visitors, friends and family, Todd said.

The brothers hope that residents embrace the new store and find its new location easily, Todd said.

"We just want to fit in," he said, and as part of that effort, the business is passing out candy apples to businesses, and offering a 25 percent discount to residents on holiday gift baskets. The store also offers other discounts for residents on everything including chocolates, coffee and ice cream.

And along with the perk of getting to meet residents and visitors every day, there is the chocolate.

"Not a day goes by where I don't eat something," Brad said.

-- To reach Susan Cunningham, call 871-4203 or e-mail sbacon@steamboatpilot.com

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