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Classic Chocolates sold to new owner

January 22, 2009|By MATTHEW UMSTEAD

Editor's note: This is the second of two stories focusing on the ups and downs of the struggling economy and its impact on Berkeley County. Click here to read the first story.

MARTINSBURG, W.Va.-- Phyllis Miller struggled to tell her five employees that it was over, that she was closing her gift and floral design business in Martinsburg at the end of December.

"That was one of the hardest days in my life, when I had to close it," Miller recalled Tuesday. "With the economy, we just couldn't keep it open."

She can at least take comfort in knowing that part of Panhandle Gift & Floral Design at 615 W. King St. will continue at the old Interwoven Mill complex.

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Classic Chocolates, the business that Miller started with her sister, Kathy Allen, in 1987 on Winchester Avenue and joined the other ventures on West King Street in 1999, was sold last week and remains open.

New owner James Miller said he expects to partner with his sister, Christal Miller, who has been in the sweet-making business for five years. Neither is related to Phyllis Miller.

Christal Miller is the proprietor of Sweet Inspirations, a bakery at 531 W. King St.

"We figured out it would be a good combination of baked goods and chocolate," James Miller said this week.

Miller said a planned expansion of Classic Chocolates will allow for the sale of baked items in a showroom-like space that isn't available at his sister's business, which specializes in made-to-order cakes, pies, bread, cookies and other sweets.

The chocolate, fudge and other treats will remain the same.

"I always got my little Easter bunnies here," said Miller, 23, while an employee was making pecan clusters.

Financially backed in the deal by his mother, Pamela R. Miller, James said they decided to buy the business after Phyllis Miller contacted them about liquidating the assets during the holiday season.

"I think the two (businesses) will complement each other," Phyllis Miller said.

While they had little time to make a decision, James Miller said he believes the business, even in the difficult economic times, will be a worthy venture.

"On Easter, you still have to get your Easter bunny. It's not like people are going to stop buying chocolate, and they're not going to stop buying baked goods," Miller said.

"Because actually, sweet stuff usually makes people happy."

And sweets are generally less expensive than other gifts.

Phyllis Miller said the liquidation sale was "solemn" and that many customers who jammed the parking lot for about two weeks last month were saddened by the demise of what she said was "a perfect marriage" of flowers, gifts and chocolate at the West King Street location since 1999.

"In the last couple years - the gift business really has taken a hit," Miller said.

Phyllis Miller said she and her sister's homemade chocolate business began as a hobby that she didn't think would survive.

Growing up in Martinsburg in the 1950s, Miller recalled two chocolatiers, Mr. (Raymond) Ryan's and The Sally Shop and she said their business aspired to revive the town's candy-making tradition.

Twelve years after Classic Chocolates began, chocolatiers Brenda and Charlie Casabona relocated their business, DeFluri's Fine Chocolates, from Vienna, Va., to the old McCrory's store in downtown Martinsburg.

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