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'National Candy Month' gives locals reason to indulge

Pamela Canelake-Matson, a third-generation confectioner at Knife River's Great! Lakes Candy Kitchen, whips up some tasty treats. Alayne Hockman/For the Budgeteer1 / 2
Pamela Canelake-Matson's candy shop in Knife River offers a variety of handmade products. Alayne Hockman/For the Budgeteer2 / 2

With sweets, decorations and costumes lining store shelves in preparation for Halloween, fall may seem to be candy season. It's really June, though, that takes the candy-encrusted crown as National Candy Month, and the Northland is the perfect place to celebrate.

There are a number of local candy stores that specialize in little indulgences -- each offering its own particular charm and treats.

Located in Canal Park's DeWitt-Seitz Marketplace, Hepzibah's Sweet Shoppe is a good place to start. It's named after Hepzibah J. Merritt, who, according to owner Tina Anderson, was "a dynamic little lady" who helped establish the first settlement in Oneota Territory, which is now West Duluth. And her sons went on to discover the Mesabi Range.

In other words, the name comes from an interesting person in local history who really has nothing to do with confections.

Still, Merritt's descendants will stop in every now and then.

"They will come in and say their great-great-grandfather is in this picture," Anderson said, pointing behind the counter. "I ask which one he is and they always say, 'I don't know.'"

Hepzibah's Sweet Shoppe specializes in confections like chocolates, old-fashioned candies, fudge, caramels, truffles and malt balls.

Though the economy has put a strain on some local businesses, she says this one is thriving.

"[The economic recession] hasn't affected us at all -- as a matter of fact, we've been better off," Anderson said. "I have a theory about it: Instead of going down to the Cities or somewhere, people are willing to spend a few bucks to treat themselves to say, a truffle, and they still feel like they're indulging."

Also in Canal Park, the Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory is another sweet stop. This one advertises its specialties as caramel apples, chocolates and fudge -- and has been in business for eight years.

"We make half the things we sell in the store in the store," Jessica Winter, assistant manager, said.

Serving approximately 100 to 500 customers daily, depending on the time of year, Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory is lined with sweets and offers special orders for those looking to buy in bulk or for a special gift.

Most likely, this shop will be seeing the latter end of Winter's estimate of customers served this weekend, with Grandma's Marathon festivities going on across the street from its location.

"Grandma's weekend, we're gonna be packed in here," Winter said. "And Tall Ships weekend, we're gonna be swamped. ... It's mainly tourists that come in here; I think it's kind of a hidden gem for the locals."

A short walk from Canal Park in Old Downtown is Fannie Rose Candy Shop. Having recently opened on April 12, this sweets store is quickly making a name for itself.

"[Business has] been steadily moving up as we get our name out there through word-of-mouth and advertising," said co-owner John Hartwick, standing on a stepstool to add ingredients to and stir a fresh batch of caramel corn. "There has been lots of positive interest from the people who come in and visit us."

If the hand-made caramel corn and fudge aren't enough, try some of the nostalgic candy -- from Zotz that fizz in your mouth with flavor to wax lips and those candy cigarettes we all thought had been banned. There are even boxes of nostalgic candies by decade.

Hadn't heard of National Candy Month? Neither had Hartwick.

"No, I haven't," said Hartwick, who runs the shop with Don and Pat Garofalo. "You know how you see that stuff on Facebook? It seems like it happens 40 weeks out of the year."

At any rate, it can be a good excuse to eat some treats while supporting local businesses.

Rounding out this sweet-tooth tour is the Great! Lakes Candy Kitchen in Knife River, which offers a variety of sweets at more-than-fair prices.

You can score a Sweet Tarts lollipop for a quarter, or a bag of chocolate rocks for less than $3. And there are choices galore, with candy by the pound and chocolates and caramel apples to choose from. Another sure hit is the caramel-dipped marshmallow for about $1.

Owned by Pamela Canelake-Matson, Dennis Matson and Patricia Canelake, this candy shop in a tiny town is a favorite to locals and a pleasant stop along the drive up the shore. The sisters are third-generation candy makers after their father, John Canelake, and grandfather, Gust Canelake.

"We don't skimp on anything," Pamela said. "We make them as [John] made them. We throw a few twists in here and there, but he's the key to our success -- his and our uncle Leo's recipes."

Nearly everything is hand-made in the kitchen. Continuing the family tradition, the Matsons' son, Andy, is starting to learn the ways of old-fashioned candy making.

"He's cooking with us once a week and he's turning out to be quite a good cook," Pamela said. "We're pretty happy."

Looking around the well-kept store, customers can see the history and tradition in photos of the original business (which still exists on the Iron Range) paired with the colorful modern paintings Patricia finds time to create on her days off.

"We've got a loyal local base ... loyal customers come back," Pamela said. "Then we've got tourists, or 'vacationists.' They'll come back once they've discovered us."

Two Harbors freelance writer Alayne Hockman can be reached via budgeteer@duluthbudgeteer.com.

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