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Finding the Center of Delicious Handmade Chocolates at Watson's Candies in Walpole, Mass.

This timeless old-fashioned candy store has kept its amazing chocolate candy recipes intact since the early 1930s. and that's a good thing!

Watsons's Candies, Walpole, Mass.Watson's Candies.

Article by Eric Hurwitz, @newenglandinfo. Story created on 11/5/2019.

Stepping into the main room at Watson's Candies in Walpole, Mass. reveals another time, another place, another world.

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).

Candy everywhere at Watson's Candies in Walpole, Mass.
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 Retail 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 an 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 simple recipe for success: Stay with what works best and keep it affordable.

Box of handmade chocolates from Watson's Candies in Walpole, Mass.
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 like fillers and paraffin wax have no place at Watson's which has always focused on using all natural ingredients. Chocolate bark from Watson's Candies in Walpole, Mass.
Chocolate bark. Photo credit: Lisa Rubini, Scrivo! Communications.

"We never changed," said Virginia Tracey, who has owned Watson's Candies for about 30 years. "We use the same ingredients, the same process."

Sweet beginnings at Watson's Candies in Walpole, Mass.
The magic begins in the kitchen.
On this day, vanilla caramel centers were being cooked.

Old-fashioned 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 sweet art and precise science of chocolate-making to collectively provide the means to create the chocolates.

Virginia Tracey works the starch boards at Watson's Candies in Walpole, Mass.
Virginia Tracey works the starch boards at Watson's.

That 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 dips the chocolates at Watson's Candies in Walpole, Mass.
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.

Buttercrunch from Watson's Candies in Walpole, MA.
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." img style="width: 100%; height: 75%;" alt="Making the turtles at Watson's Candies in Walpole, Mass." src="PageMill_Resources/watsons-peanuts-chocolate.jpg">
Turtles being made at Watson's.

The All-Star, Four Seasons Lineup of Chocolates and Candies

Display case at Watson's Candies in Walpole, Mass.
Display case at Watson's.
Watson's comes across like a historic museum of traditional, beloved chocolates. Unlike a museum, however, those masterpieces behind the glass cases can not only be admired but also purchased.

Chocolate truffles from Watson's Candies in Walpole, Massachusetts.
Box of truffles from Watson's Candies.
Photo credit: 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.

Box of dark chocolates from Watson's Candies in Walpole, Mass.Dark 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 New York. 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 from Watson's Candies in Walpole, Massachusetts.
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 caramel popcorn from Watson's Candies in Walpole, Mass.
Chocolate covered caramelized popcorn.
Photo credit: Michelle Murray.

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.

Holiday display at Watson's Candies in Walpole, Mass.
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. "My favorite."

"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.
 Christmas box of chocolates from Watson's Candies in Walpole, Mass.

Another wonderful seasonal display.

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 at weddings.

"Watson’s made beautiful chocolate seashells for my wedding cake," said Janet Lightizer.

Watson's Candies chocolate shells placed on wedding cake.
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 Candies.

"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 gift baskets for other special occasions outside of the peak holiday seasons such as birthdays, anniversaries, weddings, social events, showers, etc

Virginia often says, "We have something for everyone."

A Feeling That Goes Beyond Chocolates

It feels like home at Watson's Candies in Walpole, Mass.
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 sit, slow down and take in the ambiance.

Window seat area at Watson's Candies in Walpole, Mass.
By the window seat at Watson's.

A large retro console radio is located near the candy cases while stuffed animals with rightfully permanent smiles 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 do, too."

Old fashioned room at Watson's Candies in Walpole, MA.
Retail area at Watson's.

A Remarkable History, Sweet Memories, Community Connections

Doug Watson, the original owner of Watson's Candies in Walpole, Mass.
Douglas Watson, the original owner of Watson's Candies.

Douglas Watson started it all but Dudley Hilliard eventually became the second owner 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 in Easton.

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 that 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."

As America 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 of them.

Back in the day at Watson's Candies in Walpole, Mass.
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. Boivin. "'The lady in the window.' Dipped candies for years."

Isabella Bolvin dipped the chocolates in the front window for many years at the original Watson's Candies in Walpole, Mass.
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 Walpole, Mass.
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 and 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 employees.

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!

Watson's Candies in Walpole, Mass.
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 moment). Michelle 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.

Michelle Murray with homemade fudge from Watson's Candies in Walpole, Mass.
Watson's employee Michelle Murray displays of pound of homemade fudge.

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 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! Communications.

"Many have lived and worked here through the years," said Virginia, of Walpole townsfolk becoming part of the Watson's staff. "Many special memories, many special people."

All This and Ice Cream, too

Scoops ICe Cream Stand at Watson's Candies in Walpole, Mass.
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.

Sundae from Scoops at Watson's Candies in Walpole, Mass.
Sundae from 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 weather often cools down and families have a chance to bond over some cool sweet treats.


Retro store still thriving: Watson's Candies in Walpole, MA.
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 from Watson's Candies in Walpole, MA.
Acorns. Photo credit: Lisa Rubini, Scrivo! Communications.

Even when the chocolate color is just plain brown, its fabulous 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 Watson's (chocolates) to her home in Florida as a treat while she goes through chemotherapy."

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 from Watson's in Walpole, Mass.
Chocolate covered cherries.
Photo credit: Lisa Rubini, Scrivo! Communications.

"Watson's Candies has been part of our lives for sixty years," said Carol Sandahl.

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.
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For a complete list of chocolates and other candies, check out Watson's Candies online shopping page.

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Making delicious chocolates the old-fashioned way, one at a time, at Watson's Candies in Walpole, Mass.

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More small business reading:

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Pickity Place, Mason, N.H.
Four Seas Ice Cream, Centerville, Mass.

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