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Wertz Candies, a name synonymous in Lebanon County with handmade opera fudge, caramel corn, jelly-filled chocolates, and other yummy treats for nearly a century, is looking for someone to take over the business.
Chuck Wertz, one of three brothers in the family’s third generation of proprietorship, said the decision to sell the long-running business is simply a matter of math.
“We’ve run it longer as the children than either my grandfather or my father,” he told LebTown on Tuesday. “My brother is going to be 71. I just turned 63. I have another brother who’s 65.
“It’s just a matter of due diligence planning. There’s no offspring, and we want to keep a good thing going.”
That said, Wertz said it was the right time to make this move.
“There’s never really a perfect time. It’s not like we woke up one morning and said ‘let’s do it’,” he said. “We’ve been contemplating it, while rolling with the punches that life throws at you.”
Wertz said the family hopes to sell the business as a package, including the candy-making business, the property itself, the business name and a collection of “priceless” family recipes.
“That’s our intent,” he said. “But it’s hard to pinpoint the magic person who is going to make the right fit.”
The ideal candidate will be a hard-working individual who will treat the business like a member of the family.
“It’s a child,” Wertz said. “Me and my siblings, we don’t have children. So guess who our child was.”
The right buyer should also “have the energy drive to be a property owner and maintainer, as well as the steward of a successful business,” he added. “I don’t know if that means being an entrepreneur or not. Anyone is going to bring their ideas to the table.”
No prior candy-making experience is necessary, Wertz said. “They can learn as long as they want to learn. We have a very thorough recipe book that’s very complete and digitized.”
Also, he noted, a longtime employee who has been with the company for 15 years and knows the business “from stem to stern” is hoping to stay on as a candy maker with the new owner.
Born of the Depression
According to an online history of the business, William Howard Wertz was returning to Pennsylvania in 1930 after losing his livelihood in Nebraska due to the Great Depression. A chance to stop at a Karmelkorn Shop in Illinois inspired him to apply for a franchise license, and his own Karmelkorn Shop opened its doors in downtown Lebanon the following year.
He ran the store until his death in 1960, when son William Jr. and son-in-law L. Saylor Zimmerman Jr. took over. The business was for a time the oldest continuously operated Karmelkorn franchise in the United States, according to a Karmelkorn newsletter in 1969.
William Jr. later bought his brother-in-law’s share of the business, and in 1971 he changed the name to Wertz Candies. William Jr. retired in 1986, passing the business to his four children: William Howard, Jean Louise, Richard Alan, and Charles “Chuck” Wellington Wertz. Jean left the business in 2008, leaving it in the hands of her brothers.
The business expanded twice: in 1981, it added a satellite location at 2 E. 28th Division Highway in Brickerville, Lancaster County, and in the 1990s it added its online presence at wertzcandies.com.
“The people of the community have supported us ever since,” Chuck Wertz said. “They were a little worried at first when we changed the name, but they stuck with us through the years.
“We couldn’t do it without the community of Lebanon … especially the people who keep coming back.”
While a new owner might decide to make changes to the business plan, Wertz said he thinks the best strategy would be to “keep doing what we do best.”
“We’re not in a test kitchen,” he said. “We’re known for our caramel corn and our opera fudge. Caramels and chews.
“I have a recipe for sauerkraut truffles, but I never made one, and I’m not sure it would taste good. You have to make what sells.”
Details of the sale
The purchase, Wertz said, “comes with an income-generating property, the provenance of the family name, and a collection of family recipes. … This makes, we think, an attractive and unique deal.”
The sale is being handled through Rick Clay at Clay Realty Group, 203 Walnut St.
The sales brochure says the property is listed for $300,000. Wertz said that’s a $50,000 decrease from the property’s initial listing in December – a concession, he said, to the current economy.
The property spans 714-718 Cumberland St. and includes the candy store retail area, kitchen, packing area and garage, a second-floor office, storage and an adjoining sandwich and coffee shop, Gus Deraco’s, which is rented for $759.72 per month, as well as 21 parking spaces (18 of which are rented for $35 per month). The property has gas heat and separate HVAC and electrical systems for each unit.
“If you know anyone with a strong entrepreneurial spirit and good work ethic to support a turnkey opportunity please let us know,” Wertz wrote in a note to the Lebanon Valley Chamber of Commerce. “We want to sell the business and the property together if at all possible and we feel our price is extremely reasonable.”
Clay told LebTown that the Wertz family initially held off on making details of the sale public because they “didn’t want to put it out there, to concern the community and their longtime customers that they were going out of business. They aren’t.”
“This has been a long journey for them,” he added. “We started talking about this a year ago. This wasn’t an easy decision for them, and it wasn’t made haphazardly. They decided it’s time to slow down and let someone else do it.”
They’re ramping up the campaign to sell the property now, he said, because they’ve had some interest from investors but not people who are “interested in making candy and continuing the tradition.”
“Somebody has to step up,” Clay said. “We don’t want to lose this.”
On the other hand, he said, the Wertzes are selling the property and the business, which means there is rental income as well as retail income on the table.
“It’s lock, stock and barrel,” he said. “And the building is in good condition.”
The building itself dates back to the 1700s, when it was used as an inn. In 2006, the shop was featured in an episode of “Dirty Jobs” on the Discovery Channel, and it was twice featured on the Food Channel. Wertz said they’ve had customers visiting from all over the world.
Wertz is philosophical about ending a family tradition that spans nearly a century.
“Anybody that works in retail, especially when you have a long family history in it, is going to miss the interaction of people,” he said.
“But we subscribe to the philosophy that nothing lasts forever in life,” he continued. “We’re going to do what we can to ensure that this community still has a brick-and-mortar candy store, which is getting very rare. It’s a special thing. We feel good about it. We’re realistic about it being time to move on.
Personally, he said, he plans to travel and devote more time to the community gardens he started in the city during the pandemic. He also will continue to serve on the board of Lebanon Valley Conservancy – and preservation, he said, is an issue near and dear to his heart.
He also enjoys studying and expanding his family genealogy. The Wertzes, he said, came over from Germany in 1750, and he’s compiled some 23,000 names in his family tree.
“I’ve got plenty to do,” he said. “I have hobbies. I’m not worried about keeping busy.”
He also hopes to continue enjoying Wertz candies under the guidance of a new proprietor.
His favorite? “I probably eat more opera fudge than anything else,” Wertz said.
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