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Chocolatiers hope for sweet holiday

February 12, 2009|By JENNIFER FITCH

WAYNESBORO, Pa. -- Is chocolate truly recession proof?

Typing the question into search engine Google yields 264,000 results, but the people best suited to deliver the answer are those working in candy land every day.

"In general, people in tough times will save a little bit for a treat," said Will Pananes, whose family has owned Olympia Candy Kitchen in Chambersburg, Pa., for 86 of its 105 years in business.

While sales have not been up to par, Pananes joins other store owners in hoping for windfall profits from the Valentine's Day rush through Saturday. They've been receiving shipments of strawberries ready for dipping and plan to stay open late.

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George Tsoukatos, chocolatier for Zoe's Chocolates in Waynesboro, places the dipped long-stem strawberries on a conveyer belt that takes them through a cooling chamber. He's also been making heart-shaped boxes out of chocolate as well as strawberry balsamic, passion fruit and red wine truffles.

"There are no businesses out there that are truly recession proof. Yet, I think chocolate makers like us that make good quality chocolate fare well in a recession," said Zoe Tsoukatos, George's daughter and namesake of the business.

The Tsoukatos family has been in the chocolate business for decades, but this is only their second Valentine's Day at their East Main Street store. Zoe Tsoukatos said it's hard to tell how the economy affects business because they opened just as the recession started.

Her relatives talk about the Great Depression and say that people would buy one piece of chocolate instead of lunch that day. They say they were surprised by the number of chocolates sold during that time.

The era of World War II brought about one of Olympia Candy Kitchen's most popular former products - heart-shaped cedar chests that women used for jewelry boxes. Today, people select heart-shaped boxes made from cardboard and fill them with selections, although one often-told Olympia story involves a customer who presented his wife with a wrapped box he had forgotten to fill.

John Leos, of the Candy Kitchen in Waynesboro, said he tries to think of his product in terms of its gift value, rather than the monetary value.

"You're selecting something for your loved one," he said.

Leos added a vanilla caramel and dark bittersweet chocolate apple to his offerings.

"We're making fresh product every day," he said.

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