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Maine chocolatiers have reason to celebrate as the Easter and Passover holidays bring booming sales in an economy largely hobbled by the coronavirus spread.
“We’ve never seen anything like this in our 13 years,” said Kate Shaffer, owner of Black Dinah Chocolatiers in Westbrook. Her online sales so far this year have topped those from January through November of last year as consumers are confined to their homes.
The limping economy, which continues to see unprecedented jobless claims, still hit Black Dinah. The Westbrook-based chocolatier was forced to close one of its two retail locations and lay off one worker. Other candy makers reported a similar surge of recent online orders. But they remain cautious about longer term sales given the uncertainty about when customers will be able to come back into their stores.
Black Dinah and other chocolatiers are food producers so the state considers them essential businesses. Orders began ramping up for the holidays just before Gov. Janet Mills ordered Mainers to stay home through the end of April.
Some of Black Dinah’s most popular items are peanut butter peepers, marshmallow bunnies and almond date hedgehogs, which are currently sold out. Business has been a balancing act, however.
In the short term, the boost in Easter and Passover orders may help offset the decline in Shaffer’s wholesale business to grocery and wine stores. But free shipping across New England to stimulate sales is nibbling at income.
“Mother’s Day is coming up and should give us a boost, but we’re not sure about summer this year,” she said. “Maine chocolatiers are usually busy in the summer.”
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Tom Wilbur and Catherine Carty-Wilbur also have seen online orders skyrocket. Each day during this two-week Easter season pulled in more orders than the entire season last year.
“We’re having a booming year with online and phone orders,” said Catherine Carty-Wilbur, co-owner of Wilbur’s of Maine Chocolate Confections of Freeport and Brunswick.
Still, Wilbur’s closed one of its retail shops in Freeport and shifted staff to its Freeport factory store after L.L. Bean closed locations nationwide. Wilbur’s also has a store in Brunswick and a deal with Sea Bags of Portland to sell candies with the hand-made bags.
The company has 16 employees and some part-time workers. Tom Wilbur said the candy maker probably will have to reduce hours once Easter and Passover are over, but it may get a bump in business for Mother’s Day in May and Father’s Day in June.
Jennifer Dumond, owner of Kennebec Hand Dipped Chocolate in Augusta, said sales have been better than she expected during the coronavirus. She offers curbside pickup. She saw a flurry of online sales last week, when many orders were placed in time for holiday shipping and twice as much mail-order business as last Easter.
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Kate McAleer, founder of Bixby & Co. in Rockland, also saw a pickup in online sales after she was forced to close the store, which usually sees a lot of walk-in traffic. Curbside sales also have picked up, but overall retail sales are down with partners including Reny’s, L.L. Bean and Stonewall Kitchen closed.
A lot of customers are buying gifts, like popular chocolate puffins and the chocolate bourbon bar, for others to help support them during the virus outbreak, she said. Some are sending chocolates to health care workers.
“Candy is a way to get through troubling times,” McAleer said. “If we can do this safely, everyone should have their Easter and Passover candy.”
Watch: Nirav Shah thanks everyday Mainers for staying inside