Shiner candy store strives to satiate the Crossroads' sweet tooth
Oct. 6, 2011 at 5:06 a.m.
Updated Oct. 8, 2011 at 5:08 a.m.
SHINER - No chocolate waterfall flows through the building, and not an Oompa Loompa is in sight.
But, with its baskets of old-school chocolates and jars of other colorful confections, Shiner's Licorice and Lemon Drops Old Fashioned Candy Shop proves those things might not be necessary.
As owner of the sweet shop, Natalie Knesek serves as Shiner's own nostalgia-inspired Willy Wonka.Sweet beginnings
The idea hit in Knesek's college years, during a visit to a North Carolina general store with a rustic candy room.
" ... I decided that, if I ever found myself in a position to where I could go into business for myself, I wanted to do something like that," she said. "I just loved the idea."
That "in" came more than a decade later, when Licorice and Lemon Drops opened its doors in Gonzales in January 2004. The goal was to offer that same old-time atmosphere.
"Our popular candy now is not necessarily what grandma and grandpa ate," Knesek said. "If you can run into a convenience store and get it, I probably don't have it."
While her vision came true, it didn't come easily.
Knesek quickly learned no one offered credit without trade references. For her first year, she paid in advance, estimated sales and factored in shipping costs until she established that necessary track record.
One vendor, Jelly Belly, was the exception, taking her personal credit into consideration.
"I will always carry Jelly Belly because they took a chance on me when nobody else would," she said.Now and Later
Knesek's first location was smaller than 300 square feet and offered up Blue Bell ice cream and malts and about 15 jars of candy. Small signs asked what customers wanted to see.
"That was how we built up our inventory," she said. "People told us what they wanted, and we stocked it."
With time, the business model and inventory expanded.
In October 2008, the shop relocated to Shiner, and, in 2009, Knesek joined forces with Sandwiches and Such, a cafe her parents, Ralph and Kathy Stevens, own. The most recent update came in early August, when the both the candy store and sandwich shop moved to 1509 N. Avenue E.
Although her sales radius spans about a 350-mile radius, she said online orders come from as far as Manhattan and San Francisco.
Learning the business meant adapting to competition from box stores that offer candy in bulk, Knesek said, explaining she avoids ordering things that might fill their shelves.
It's guesswork, since she orders six months in advance, but necessary.
"They undercut me so bad that those things will just sit on my shelves," she said, adding she donates most excess items to area youth and senior centers.
It isn't just learning what sells, but when.
Licorice and Lemon Drops' biggest sales come on Valentine's Day, followed by the days leading up to Christmas. Easter comes next, and then Halloween.
"For Halloween, people usually just get the cheap candy at a big box store," she said. "They're not eating it."Continuing candy land
Road blocks or not, the mother of three said she's happy. The best part of the business isn't the chance at an ever-present sugar high - although she said she thoroughly enjoys the champagne truffles - but the people who enter the doors.
Shiner residents Shorty Caka and Lillie Tenberg visited in late September for a quick lunch, splitting a slice of cake for dessert.
The friends said they've shopped at Licorice and Lemon Drops for years. Caka's favorite treats are the Maple Nut Goodies, while Tenberg prefers licorice.
The shop offers an experience other larger stores don't, Caka said, as was evidenced by a recent visit from her 9-year-old grandson.
"He had never been to a candy store, and it was so much fun to see his face," she said with a smile. "He wanted to taste every bit of candy. It was really something special."
Knesek became emotional, discussing the families she's seen grow up through the years.
"Maybe they began coming in, tucking the baby carrier behind the counter while they shopped," she said, dabbing a tear. "And then, they came back with the baby walking, or older and picking out a treat."
All in all, she said, life is sweet.
"It's a happy place to be," she said. "When your worst stress is you're out of Bit-O-Honey, you don't have too much stress."