Candies/VisitingNewEngland small business partnership - Local Small Business Stories
Finding the Center of Delicious Handmade Chocolates at
Candies in Walpole, Mass.
timeless old-fashioned candy store has kept its amazing chocolate candy
recipes intact since the early 1930s. and that's a good thing!
Article by Eric Hurwitz, @newenglandinfo.
created on 11/5/2019.
Stepping into the main room at
Watson's Candies in Walpole, Mass. reveals another time, another place,
Looking like a heartwarming scene from a 1930s movie, the old-fashioned
nature of Watson's Candies possesses a storyline of restoring the magic
of childhood no matter what age with handmade chocolates
as the remarkable cure. It all starts instantly upon entering Watson's
with the wonderful aroma of chocolate saturating every square
foot of the place. The customer indeed feels like a kid in a candy
store, seeing this sweet wonderland and excited about all the sweet
possibilities that will end up coming home (and often some
sampling on the ride back).
Entering the main room at Watson's Candies.
These handmade chocolates, and the family that creates them, take
top billing in clearly what media critics might hail as "Feel Good
Story of the Year." Actually, make that the past nine decades.
This long-running epic story dates back to 1932 when Douglas and Doris
Watson opened shop in downtown Walpole. Back then, Mr. Watson created
instantly popular small business to lift peoples' spirits up during The
Great Depression. Watson's, however, has survived long after one of the
most challenging times in American history. They have endured through
the cyclical nature of war and peace, and the revolving door of
political, social and
economic prosperities and perils. The only time the business model
changed: during wartime when shortages demanded cheaper substitutes.
The ongoing Watson's business memo passed along through the years is a
recipe for success: Stay with
what works best and keep it affordable.
Box of assorted chocolates from Watson's Candies.
Watson's Candies creates its chocolate
coatings with high quality cocoa beans from around the world and a high
butterfat content for optimal taste. They always use real cream and dip
the chocolates by hand after making the centers
for its delicious morsels. Typical industry shortcuts
fillers and paraffin wax have no place at Watson's which has always
focused on using all natural ingredients.
Chocolate bark. Photo credit:
Lisa Rubini, Scrivo! Communications.
"We never changed," said Virginia Tracey, who has owned Watson's
for about 30 years. "We use the same ingredients, the same process."
The magic begins in the kitchen. On this day, vanilla caramel centers were being cooked.
starch trays, original molds, cold steel tables, a gas burner from 1923
and other "If-it-ain't-broke-don't fix-it" appliances combine with the
art and precise
science of chocolate-making
to collectively provide the means to create
Virginia Tracey works the starch boards at Watson's.
process, however, involves more than hand-crafting and slow-cooking the
candy centers. The next step is funneling the cooked candy into the
starch molds. Then, they cool overnight in the starch beds. The candy
centers are then hand-dipped, one-by-one, into milk, dark or white
chocolate coatings from the copper kettles.
Donna Quigley (Virginia's sister) dips raspberry creams, one-by-one, at Watson's Candies.
Virginia and staff know how to use the right ingredients in
the correct proportions. There's another crucial layer added to the
chocolate, too, that imparts the mouthwatering magic: Everything here
is made with love. Mr. Watson would have wanted it that way.
Watson's Buttercrunch. Photo credit:
Lisa Rubini, Scrivo! Communications.
"We want to keep the Watson dream going," said Virginia. "We are here
to make candy the way Mr. Watson did."
Turtles being made at Watson's.
The All-Star, Four Seasons Lineup of Chocolates and Candies
Display case at Watson's.
Watson's comes across like a
historic museum of traditional, beloved chocolates. Unlike a
those masterpieces behind the glass cases can not only be admired but
Box of truffles from Watson's Candies.
Lisa Rubini, Scrivo! Communications.
A few of the most popular items include turtles,
hand-rolled truffles, nonpareils, chocolate covered caramelized popcorn
and boxes of dark, milk and assorted
chocolates (Watson's featured dark chocolate before dark chocolate was
cool!). Watson's, however, offers many more products definitely worth checking out.
chocolate from Watson's Candies.
Fudge is also a customer favorite made from a 87-year-old recipe -- the
best this writer has tasted, to date, in New England and also Upstate
Created on a gas stove in a copper kettle, the fudge bursts with
homemade flavor. Unlike many other places selling a wide variety of
overly sweet, chalky-tasting flavored fudge, Watson's sticks to the
basics with a minimal amount of choices. They include chocolate,
chocolate walnut, peanut butter, penuche and penuche walnut.
Homemade fudge. Photo credit:
Lisa Rubini, Scrivo! Communications.
"We use real cream, real sugar, real chocolate," said Virginia. "This
is not a powdered mix fudge."
Chocolate covered caramelized popcorn. Photo credit:
As could be expected, Watson's experiences peak business during the
holiday seasons. Christmas remains the busiest time followed by Easter,
Valentines' Day and Thanksgiving. From chocolate-covered cherries and
long-stemmed strawberries on Valentine's Day to Santa Claus-molded
chocolates for Christmas to Easter Bunny concoctions on Easter, it's
all delectable! The layouts are as much to behold as the
chocolates with thoughtfully and artfully concocted displays that
inherently generate maximum exposure.
Seasonal display at Watson's.
The customers love what they see and ultimately purchase and eat, all
tied in with special traditions and memories.
"Growing up, my Easter basket always had a large chocolate egg filled
with jellybeans and my initials on top," said Maureen Jo Errichetti.
"Virginia makes the BEST gift baskets for us to give to our clients at
Christmas time!" said Deirdre Welch, a long-time resident who,
with husband Patrick, raised their family in Walpole.
Watson's finds other ways to help with special occasions that don't fit
into peak times of the year.
"When the Walpole Children’s Theatre did Charlie and the Chocolate Factory,
they made very special candies and handed out some version of a golden
ticket to the cast, "said Patty Dixon.
Additionally, Watson's has also been known to make a grand appearance
"Watson’s made beautiful chocolate seashells for my wedding cake," said
Chocolate seashells from Watson's placed on wedding cake.
Photo, courtesy of Janet Lightizer.
And often, birthday celebrations have a long-standing nexus to Watson's
"Ever since we moved to Walpole we have purchased the chocolate covered
Oreos for my son," said Renae McGraw. "He is now 30 and we have
never missed a birthday! He was four when we moved to Walpole."
Watson's also assembles custom
for other special occasions outside of the peak holiday seasons such as
anniversaries, weddings, social events, showers, etc
. Virginia often says, "We have something for everyone."
A Feeling That Goes Beyond Chocolates
Side room at Watson's.
As Brahms plays in the background, customers find their sweet lullaby
dreams in the form of chocolates. Other nostalgic memories, however,
complement the Watson's experience equally as soothing and comforting
as the Cradle Song. There's an old Jewett Piano sitting
in a Victorian-style side room and a window seat with older pillows to
down and take in the ambiance.
By the window seat at Watson's.
A large retro console radio is located
near the candy cases while stuffed animals with rightfully permanent
sparsely populate the shop. Old postcards and wise-old-saying signs
lend a general store vibe. The antique cabinets, tan tile floor, retro
wall clock, area rugs, old fashioned scales and slightly faded photos
of the Watson family
all contribute to a feeling of being at home.
"We make it inviting," said Virginia. "The customers like that feeling. We
Retail area at Watson's.
A Remarkable History, Sweet Memories, Community Connections
Douglas Watson, the original owner of Watson's Candies.
Douglas Watson started it all but Dudley Hilliard eventually became the
and faithfully carried on the grand tradition until 1990. Dudley was
part of the Hilliard family that made Hilliard's House of Candies (now
Hilliard's Chocolates) a household name
business south of Boston. His niece, Judy, nows runs Hilliard's based
The original Watson's store graced Main St. in downtown Walpole as part
of classic Main Street USA scene that provided the locals with
everything they needed -- and then some. Watson's became a grand
unifier, of sorts, as the business model of selling homemade chocolates
appealed to virtually everyone.
I used to walk from our house on Mass. Ave. to Walpole Center and buy a
small bag of fudge to eat walking home," said Joanne Damish, who is now
in her 80s. "Even now when I want to buy a special gift, it is Watson’s
I go to for a pound of their chocolates."
This is the place mom, dad, the
kids or the family as a whole walked from the tree-lined neighborhoods,
rode by bike or drove by car to watch them make the chocolates and then
buy a box.
"I remember in the 70s going in with my mom," said Tim Giusti, a
Walpole native. "And watching them dip the caramel into the vat of
chocolate. And getting one handed to me right out of the vat. So cool."
became more transient and journeyed where the jobs took them, many
formers residents continued their love affairs with Watson's by
ordering boxes to be shipped anywhere in the United States. Others
would return to their hometown to become reunited with family and make
Watson's one of the first stops
along the way. Those close to home, however, had the greatest advantage
with what they felt was the world's best chocolate made right in front
Back in the day at Watson's Candies.
"My memory of Watson’s
growing up was an older lady (the late Isabella Boivin) dipping candies
in this spinning drum of
melted chocolate," said Leo Bulavko. I could watch for hours."
"A staple in Watson’s
history," said Dan Ryan, a Walpole resident, and grandson of Mrs.
"'The lady in the window.' Dipped candies for years."
Isabella Boivin, the lady who made chocolates in the window.
Everyone who grew up
in Walpole remembers her!" said Paul MacPhee.
Leo Bulavko no longer
lives in Walpole, but remembers Watson's well and regards its
chocolates as surpassing a famous, nationally renowned
old-time chocolate business
where he currently resides in Maryland.
"Moved from Walpole to join the Army in 1990," said Bulavko. "Brought
my wife and sons to the new location which, way back, was Leo’s Cafe.
Still the same smell inside. Now living in Edgewood, Maryland... and
Watson’s is better than Wockenfuss (Candies in Baltimore) down here."
Watson's has also
caught the attention of well-known figures. One example:
Thirty-fifth U.S. president
John F. Kennedy and his
wife Jacqueline came to Walpole during his campaign tour. He
spoke to locals from the charming downtown 1901 stone gazebo on the
Walpole town common. As a token of appreciation
from his legion of Walpole supporters, Kennedy reportedly received
candy from Watson's Candies!
The first location of Watson's Candies in downtown Walpole.
Virginia and family bought Watson's from Hilliard in 1990 and kept the
shop at its downtown
Walpole location until around 2000 when moving to its current spot
about a mile north on Route 1A. Virginia -- born and raised in Walpole
who previously worked in the travel industry -- learned the chocolate
profession well. The move also occurred because Virginia could live
upstairs and have a short commute while raising her family.
Irene Tracey, Virginia's mom, worked at the store for 22 years until
recently retiring. Still, at 90-years-old she can be seen occasionally
downstairs talking with the generations of family and Watson's
Through the years, many family members have worked at
Watson's including sisters Donna Quigley and Sandra Tracey. Virginia's
son, Sean, currently works full-time at the shop. Virginia, by the
way, comes from a family of 13 girls and three boys!
A welcoming scene: Watsons Candies.
In addition to family working at Watson's, many of the younger
generation have contributed as specialists and generalists (everyone at
Watson's helps each other and can fill in for each other at any
Murray is a current prime example of this. A Walpole native and recent
graduate of Southern New Hampshire University, Michelle has a talent
and background in graphic design and marketing, helps with social media
and works the
front room where she seamlessly helps customers within the grand
Watson's customer service tradition template.
Watson's employee Michelle Murray displays of pound of
Many will never forget working
at Watson's in their younger years, Mal Ryan being one of them.
"My first job after school was
working at Watson's Candies," said Ryan. "It is and was the BEST
CANDY ever. Passersby were amazed that we didn’t get
sick of the smell or taste—we would munch on those delicious chocolates
all the time. To this day, i can still read all the markings in the
chocolate box that tell you what’s inside....an inside secret I
treasure....Virginia has done such an incredible job of preserving this
wonderful Walpole Institution. Still the best ever!!!!!"
Watson's also hires seasoned professionals from the area. Lisa
Rubini lives within walking distance of
Watson's. She created the Watson's web site as well as taking photos
for myriad promotional purposes through her company, Scrivo!
"Many have lived and worked here through the years," said Virginia, of
becoming part of the Watson's staff. "Many special memories, many
All This and Ice Cream, too
Scoops Ice Cream Stand. Photo source: Watson's Candies
Facebook fan page.
Watson's Candies closes during August, but no worries: During the
warmer weather season, the candy store opens Scoops, an ice cream stand
that brings in droves of locals for hard serve ice cream (from the
famed Richardson's, based in Middleton, Mass.), 24 flavors of soft
serve, sundaes, frappes, and root beer floats.
Scoops Ice Cream Stand at Watson's Candies. Photo source: Watson's
Candies Facebook fan page.
Built in the former
garage of the home, Scoops serves as a perfectly sensible extension of
Watson's Candies -- that is, as another old fashioned American treasure
in the form of an ice cream stand. At times, it seems like the whole
town lines up there, especially at twilight or in the evening when the
often cools down and families have a chance to bond over some cool
Artist's rendition of the original Watson's location and
another artist's rendition of delicious handmade chocolates!
The best strolls down memory lane not only evoke a warm sense of
nostalgia but also offer something of meaning and value for the current
moment and future. Watson's wonderfully meets all three criteria. Here
is a place that takes us away from a harsher world outside and into a
warm, safe environment where staff greets, meets and helps the
customer. It's almost like the sepia
tinted memories of a place loved many years ago suddenly become
repurposed in living color. This is no colorized movie, however. The
permanent rainbow of reds, greens, oranges and other candy colors grace
many of the chocolates.
Acorns. Photo credit:
Lisa Rubini, Scrivo! Communications.
Even when the chocolate color is just plain brown, its
presence can light up a room, or better yet a person's life.
"I only have one maternal and one paternal aunt left," said Robin
Cappucino, a Walpole resident. "My maternal aunt
is the newest one in the family to fight breast cancer. We’ve been sending her
(chocolates) to her home in Florida as a treat while she goes through
Through the good times and bad, chocolate can play an important role in
making life better. As we all know, it's sweet and delicious and an
infinity of reasons can validate consumption from childhood to an older
age -- and the time in between.
Chocolate covered cherries. Photo credit:
Lisa Rubini, Scrivo! Communications.
"Watson's Candies has been part of our lives for sixty years," said
Virginia has come to know many of the people in Walpole, which is known
locally as "The Friendly Town." She came home from a career in the
travel industry and found worldliness right in her own backyard. The
relationships built and the chance to love her work while at home is as
sweet a story as the chocolates Watson's sells
"There's a lot of passion that goes into what we are doing here," said
Virginia. "This is more than a job and the way we make chocolates is
the highest quality you'll find anywhere."
Watson's Candies is
located at 761 Main St., Walpole MA 02081. Tel. 508-668-2634.
Web site: https://watsonscandies.com/.
Facebook fan page: https://www.facebook.com/WatsonCandy/.
Instagram page: https://www.instagram.com/watson_candies/.
complete list of chocolates and other candies, check out Watson's Candies online shopping page.
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