Well, here is news I wasn’t expecting to hear this morning: chocolate may soon be more difficult to source on Colorado’s Western Slope.
I frankly never expect to hear much Colorado news in the half-hour I have the Denver news on the TV. As near as I can tell, the entire purpose of these morning “newscasts” is to aid commuters, because it’s an endless procession of weather and traffic reports. Sometimes, on dramatic days when the weather is bad, the two are combined. “It’s snowing and the commute sucks.”
Interspersed in the tiniest of bits are fragments of news, and that’s all I got today, so I once again am light on details. But since that never stops me, I’ll charge forward, full-force: apparently the Russell Stover candy company is going to close its Montrose location, 60 miles west of Gunnison.
It sounds like this could put 300-ish people out of work, but I’m not sure how soon. The newscaster said it would happen “next year, in March.” I don’t know if that really means 14 months from now, to ease the pain of chocoholics, or if they forgot, like I keep doing, that we’re now in January and March is a mere month and a half away.
I don’t know how big business works, and I’m not sure how “big” a business Russell Stover is. My obligatory five minutes of research may not have even taken that long, because Wikipedia has surprisingly little to say about the current company, although lots of interesting history.
Russell Stover (the man, not the legend) was 23 when he married fellow American Clara Mae Lewis in 1911 and they received, as one of their wedding gifts, a 520-acre farm in Saskatchewan. Makes those silver place settings you buy for your betrothed friends look a little paltry now, doesn’t it?
But the farming life was not for them and they gave it up after only a year, moving to Minneapolis, where he started a peripatetic life among candymakers until he landed in Omaha, Neb. There he met a man who wanted to serve “I-Scream Bars” of ice cream surrounded by chocolate — but the confection kept melting off its stick.
Mr. Stover put his chemistry background to work and came up with a chocolate shell that hardened when exposed to the cold of ice cream. He ditched the stick and called this “Eskimo Pie.” I did not know that Russell Stover invented this — see how much we have learned already from a mostly non-news half-hour?
This was the beginning of the Russell Stover Company, but less than a year later Mr. Stover sold his interest and moved to Denver, where he put his wife to work in their home kitchen, churning out Mrs. Stover’s Bungalow Candies. Seven years later, the obviously restless Stovers moved to Kansas City, where he decided his wife had received enough of the glory (here I’m making a great assumption) and renamed the company Russell Stover Candies. This is the company we know of today.
Mr. Stover died in 1954 while overseeing the annual production of 11 million pounds of candy. Mrs. Stover continued to run the company another six years, until she sold, for $7.5 million, to the man who made the boxes for their candy. The box company owned the candy until 2014, when it was sold to Lindt, the Swiss chocolate company, when annual revenue was $500 million.
Some statistically insignificant portion of those sales were made, over the years, to the Livermore family. My mom was a big fan, and so there were often boxed of assorted chocolates floating around the house.
While I was a consumer of chocolate in those days, these boxes never interested me as much as other kinds of chocolate, partly for their great unknowns. Maybe now they mark the boxes, but back then it was kind of a crap shoot, and most of the chocolates in the box bore the marks, on their undersides, of children’s fingernails, indenting the chocolate coating in an attempt to identify the filling inside. A surprising number of these fillings were fairly unpalatable, at least to children’s palates.
I always liked the toffee, easily recognized by its bar shape and the existence of two of them in the same paper. And I feel like I remember a pale green non-chocolate mint I liked, but other than that it was all about trying to find the ones with coconut inside.
Despite this history, and perhaps because of my discontinued association with chocolate, I have never been inside the Russell Stover plant in Montrose. I’ve driven past it plenty, right there as it is on Townsend Avenue as you head south, and the company’s largesse is plain here in Gunnison, where they donated an old building to become the genesis of the current Six Points facility, our community’s favorite thrift store and organization to assist people with developmental disabilities and traumatic brain injuries.
Lynn, of course, is well acquainted with Russell Stover-Montrose, although as a chocolate purist who spurns even the hint of milk chocolate (her motto: the darker the better; my motto: bleah) she seems to prefer her chocolate in solid form. Why waste a perfectly good center on a non-chocolate substance?
So I don’t know that our household will really notice the departure of the facility, although I can’t imagine this news was met with any joy in Montrose. Three hundred-some jobs is a lot to lose in one fell swoop.
Hopefully the newscaster was right, and this closing is over a year away, to give people time to start looking now for new employment. Or maybe some different company would have need of the small campus. Maybe even a different chocolate company. Otherwise, a lot of Gunnison pilgrimages to Montrose are going to have a distinctly different flavor about them.