Preserving a Sweet Family Tradition

Hometown Heroes, Made in America, People, Traditions
on June 17, 2001

When Warren and Jill Schimpff moved to Jeffersonville, Ind., (pop. 25,787) last year to take over the 110-year-old family business, Schimpffs Confectionery, the retirees were like kids in a candy store.

I cant quite describe it, but theres something really satisfying about making a piece of candy, then watching a customer enjoy eating it, says Warren, whose great-grandfather, Gustav Schimpff, opened the store in 1891. Theres that instant feedback and knowing you are doing something that is appreciated.

When Schimpffs closed in December of 1989, following the death of third-generation owner Catherine Schimpff, residents of the Ohio River town were saddened. The downtown sweets shopwith its tin ceiling, terrazzo flooring, vintage soda fountain, and glass-front candy display caseswas truly a Jeffersonville landmark. For generations it had been the place where townspeople gathered, not only to sample the sugary indulgences made in the backroom candy kitchen, but also to share the latest news and socialize.

The closing made the headlines, says Tom Lindley, publisher and editor of The Evening News. People just couldnt imagine it was no longer going to be there.

Neither could Warren, a chemist, and Jill, a college professor, who were living in Claremont, Calif., at the time. Taking a leap of faith, they bought the store in 1990 as part of a family estate settlement.

The store reopened a few months later with trusted employee Mary Lee Wessel assuming management responsibilities. Warren and Jill kept tabs from California, all the while anticipating moving to Jeffersonville to begin second careers as confectioners. That happened last November.

Now the Schimpffs live in an apartment above the business and split their time between candy making and store duty, working with Mary Lee and 11 other employees. Using time-tested methods and old-fashioned machines and molds, they create treats such as peanut brittle, hand-dipped chocolates, and two regional specialties: hard candy fish and caramel-covered marshmallows. Cinnamon red hots, however, are the biggest seller.

Nearly two tons annually, Jill says, using the same recipe Gustav used in 1891.

Mail orders account for about 10 percent of the stores sales; loyal local customers gobble up the rest of the goodies.

The Schimpffs continually hear stories from customers about the establishments significance to the town, including one about how before every household in Jeffersonville had a telephone, people would meet at the candy store during out-of-town high school basketball games, knowing someone traveling with the team would call with scores. Employees even posted the scores in the store window for passers-by to see.

With a smile, Jill adds, Just the other day, a very elderly lady came in, pointed to a booth, and said, Thats where I sat on my first date.

Its clearly one of the communitys jewels, Lindley says, referring to Schimpffs. Its the type of institution you just cant replace. Jill and Warren brought something back to us that everyone feared was gone.

In 1991, for its 100th anniversary, the store was honored by the town with a gala celebration, which included recognition from then-Indiana Lt. Gov. Frank OBannon.

Warren and Jill hope for an even bigger to-do to commemorate Schimpffs 110th year in business this year. Part of the excitement will be the opening of a candy-making demonstration area and museum, filled with the couples large collection of candy-related memorabilia, in two buildings adjacent to the store.

People come in and bring their children and grandchildren, and its just a family tradition, Jill says. We want to create memories for todays generation.