Bitter sweet ending for Steveston candy store

Shirley Hartwell is calling it a day at the Candy Dish on Moncton Street

It’s the kids and the old folks that Shirley Hartwell is going to miss the most.

In a couple of weeks, Hartwell will turn the key on the Candy Dish in Steveston for the last time, signaling the end to another little piece of the village.

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The Moncton Street store, in its current guise, has been there for almost eight years after morphing from the Candy Bouquet, which had a good 12 years before it under its previous owner.

However, Hartwell — who pretty much ran the business herself, with a little help from her husband, Ed Whitby — cited a number of factors all coming together to force her hand.

Hitting retirement age recently, current three-year lease ending, a drop in sales after TV show Once Upon a Time (OUAT) stopped filming in Steveston and being unable to sell the business were enough to convince her it was time to call it a day.

“It has been fun watching the little ones grow up and I’ll miss that,” Hartwell told the Richmond News.

“We don’t have our own children; I really enjoyed them coming in. They’ve been coming in recently and buying the jars; they’re going to take them home and decorate them.

“I think of the elderly people, as well. A lot of them come over from The Maple Residences. They like to chat and it’s nice to have a chat with them.

“I think they’ll be sorry to see us go. They really identify with the old sweet shops. They all come in with a story of where they got their candy and it was usually a corner store.

“No one ever came into the store in a bad mood and if they did, they smell the candy and are instantly in a good place.”

Bitter sweet ending for Steveston candy store_2
The Candy Dish’s Shirley Hartwell holds up) the giant lollipop she’s raffling off for her loyal customers before she closes shop later this month. Alan Campbell photos

Hartwell, however, said she’s “really glad” she did it. “I fulfilled my dream (to own a candy store). Now I’m ready to move on. I hope, some day, the kids that have been coming in here remember their store growing up was the Candy Dish.”

Steveston resident Hartwell recalled taking over from the former Candy Bouquet on Halloween night in 2010, after working as a tour guide for about 25 years, trailing through The Rockies and up to Alaska.

“When you first start, you’re really enthusiastic and we got very well known for our home-made fudge,” she said.

“(OUAT) was great for many years, but I’ve noticed a drop-off since they stopped filming this year. They were filming the entire time I was open.

“I would say a good 10,000 people came through this store in connection with the show.”

While promoting her OUAT-themed fudges and candy, Hartwell, via a $2 donation for a OUAT brochure, managed to raise more than $6,000 for the Richmond Food Bank and other local charities, noting that around 20 per cent of her business likely came from the ABC show being set in the village.

“We sold a lot of Snow White Fudge!” she laughed.

The proliferation over the years of stores such as Bulk Barn — and supermarkets having bulk candy — put local candy stores, such as the Candy Dish, on borrowed time, added Hartwell.

“Markets change and with social media now, which I’m not good at, it’s even tougher. If I was good at that, maybe things would be better.

“I still have an old cash register; we’re very mom and pop. We are a dying breed.

“We tried to sell the business for a year, but nobody wanted to buy it. Not one bit of interest.”

Now, as well as the candy, she’s selling off all the candy dishes as a little bit of memorabilia for the kids.

“The candy will hopefully just sell out,” she added.

“We’re going to have a kids day somewhere in the next week or two and we’re going to raffle off the giant swirl lollipop.”

Hartwell said she likely won’t see out the full last month of her lease, indicating that any leftover candy will go to the food bank.

As for what might replace the Candy Dish, Hartwell isn’t sure, although she know it’s offshore, Chinese investors that own the whole block.

“They were in here measuring up recently with prospective tenants,” she said.

In the meantime, Hartwell is looking forward to retirement with her husband, taking a cruise, volunteering in the community and perhaps putting on her old tour guide hat once more.

“(The tour operators) keep on phoning me, so I might do that part-time.”

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