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New chocolate shop opens in Martinsburg

January 25, 1999

Chocolate ShopBy BRYN MICKLE / Staff Writer, Martinsburg

photo: KEVIN G. GILBERT / staff photographer




MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - A new player has joined the effort to satisfy Berkeley County's sweet tooth.

After spending almost a year and $210,000 renovating the former dime store at 130 N. Queen St. in Martinsburg, Charlie and Brenda Casabona have opened the doors on DeFluri's Fine Chocolates.

The couple already own and operate two DeFluri's shops in Northern Virginia but decided to expand the business and relocate their production facilities to Martinsburg.

"The people here are nice," Charlie Casabona said. "They stop and say hello to you."

The proximity to Interstate 81, lower overhead costs and the availability of employees also helped in the decision, Brenda Casabona said, adding she and her husband now make their home in Martinsburg.

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Since opening the Martinsburg shop a few days before Christmas, the Casabonas have spent much of their time working the bugs out of their process for making everything from truffles to coconut bonbons.

Making the chocolates isn't as hard as making sure everything is in sync in the kitchen. The wrong water temperature or a shift in air flow can make a big difference in how the chocolate comes out, Charlie said.

Once everything is straightened out, the Casabonas said they expect to add two full-time production workers at salaries of about $18,000 a year, as well as seasonal help in the peak times around Easter and Christmas.

An eight-hour shift working five days can produce up to 16,000 pounds of finished chocolate. Each pound of the assorted delights sells for $12.49, and the Casabonas said people can taste the difference.

"People buy candy for pleasure or as a gift," said Brenda. "When people want to give something, they want to give something nice."

With Classic Chocolates and Pete's Sweets already established in Berkeley County, the Casabonas feel there will enough candy business to go around.

About 30 percent of DeFluri's sales figures come from wholesaling chocolates to specialty gift and gourmet food stores, said Brenda.

The couple hopes to use the expanded production facility to increase their wholesale and mail order business shifting away from the retail sales that make up the majority of current sales.

"We're geared heavily toward wholesale," said Brenda. "We don't want to put anyone locally out of business."

Pete's Sweets owner Peter Dufourny said he has not seen any decline in business since DeFluri's opened, but the true test will come with Valentine's Day and Easter.

After moving about 18 months ago from the Martinsburg Mall to his current location at 316 W. Stephen St., Dufourny said his store is currently doing "break-even" business. His overhead is less than it was in the mall but so is the foot traffic that brings in candy buyers, he said.

Dufourny, however, is not too concerned about the arrival of new competition.

"Good candy is good candy," Dufourny said.

Classic Chocolates owner Phyllis Allport said her store at 704 Winchester Ave. has built a strong following based on traditions such as the "Cashew Daintie" - a jumbo cashew half dipped in chocolate.

"I think Martinsburg can support all three of us," she said. "Competition is good."

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