By Bethany Bray STAFF WRITER
The Salem News
---- — BEVERLY — A vacant building at 115 Cabot St. could soon be humming with the sights, sounds and smells of candy-making.
Winfrey’s Fudge and Chocolates, a family-run company based in Rowley, is in negotiations to buy the property, which has been empty since Rice Rental Center closed in 2009.
Mark Winfrey said his family has signed a purchase and sale agreement for 115 Cabot St. They hope to close on the property soon and begin renovations over the winter. The Winfreys plan to open a retail store there, with a glass partition that allows customers to see the candy, fudge and chocolates being made.
“We’ve always been interested in Beverly,” Winfrey said. “When this (property) came up, it really just fit like a glove. ... We’re all working very hard to make sure we have a strong company. We don’t like to take enormous risks, but we think this is a good fit for our company because of the location and the community we’re moving into.”
The purchase of 115 Cabot St. would be an expansion for Winfrey’s, which, in addition to its headquarters on Route 1 in Rowley, has retail shops in Hamilton, Wenham, Newburyport, Rowley and Stoneham.
Winfrey’s sells a variety of fudge, candies and chocolates, all of which are made in Rowley. Their products are sold in their own retail shops and other candy stores, farm stands, and gift shops.
The large, warehouse-style building in downtown Beverly would also be used for storage of merchandise headed to the company’s retail shops.
Last week, Beverly’s Zoning Board of Appeals granted Winfrey’s a variance to use the building for storage. They needed a variance because the building is in an area not zoned for warehousing. The Winfreys will also need a building permit before renovation work can begin.
Previously, the property was a family-run rental company. Rice Rental Center filed for bankruptcy in January 2009, after more than 40 years in business.
Winfrey said they’ve gotten a warm response from folks in Beverly, including from neighbors and Beverly Main Streets.
“We think Beverly is a nice, strong community,” Winfrey said. “We think that we share a lot of the same values as most people that live in Beverly. ... We’re extremely excited to become part of the community over there.”
The property, which was assessed at $689,300 this year, is on the South end of Cabot Street, across from a laundromat and next door to Beverly Historical Society’s John Cabot House.
A family operation
Christine and Stuart Winfrey started their candy and fudge business in 1979. Their three children, Mark, Scott and Jillian, now work alongside their parents and are raising a third generation of candy-makers.
The couple started making fudge in their basement so they could stay home with their newborn twin sons. They moved into their Rowley headquarters in 1990.
They now have 55 to 60 employees, including part-time and seasonal workers, some of whom have worked for the family for decades.
“We’ve grown ... with a lot of work and some luck sprinkled in,” Winfrey said.
Jillian Winfrey is the general store manager and marketing manager. Mark Winfrey is the packing department manager and also helps with the corporate and wholesale business. Scott Winfrey is production manager.
Winfrey’s peak business centers around holidays — they do 50 percent of their business for the year in December, Mark Winfrey said.
Production ranges from a few hundred pounds per week in the offseason to thousands of pounds each week around the holidays, including Easter and Valentine’s Day.
The family is friendly with other local candy-makers through the New England Retail Confectioners Association, so it’s hard to consider them competition, Winfrey said.
“It’s a great industry to be in. It’s very friendly, very open,” he said. “You’re working with candy. You know most people are in very good moods when they’re getting candy.”
Bethany Bray can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @SalemNewsBB.