How sweet it is

Chico candy store owners break away from Powell’s franchise

Sweet Chico Confections owners Hal and Nancy Carlson operated their business as a Powell’s Sweet Shoppe franchise for 10 years.

Sweet Chico Confections owners Hal and Nancy Carlson operated their business as a Powell’s Sweet Shoppe franchise for 10 years.

Photo by Ken Smith

Tasty treats:
Sweet Chico Confections is located at 121 W. Third St. 332-9866.

When Hal Carlson chose to retire from his career in the agriculture industry in Sonoma County just over a decade ago, he and his wife, Nancy, decided to move back to Chico. Hal was born here and the couple met at Chico State, so it was familiar. They’d become smitten with the original Powell’s Sweet Shoppe in Windsor and wanted to open a franchise.

They pinpointed a space on Third Street, next door to Made in Chico, that was soon to be vacated by beloved restaurant Redwood Forest. The change-up didn’t go over well initially with locals, some of whom vowed to boycott the candy shop because a report in the Enterprise-Record insinuated that the Carlsons were out-of-towners who were stepping on the toes of Redwood Forest, which had been a fixture downtown since 1976. The restaurant owners were quick to defend the Carlsons and debunk the article. Eventually, Powell’s became a fixture in downtown Chico.

“It was great to be part of a franchise in the beginning, because they would travel worldwide and find all the latest, greatest things,” Nancy said during a recent visit to the couple’s Third Street candy and novelty shop, which they recently renamed Sweet Chico Confections. “When you start a business, there’s so much to do, so it was very helpful to have that model and support when we started.”

But eventually, the relationship began to sour. The Carlsons said support from Powell’s corporate headquarters dropped off incrementally over the years, as their former parent company changed hands multiple times. Hal noted there were 18 Powell’s stores spread across California, Nevada and Oregon when they opened the Chico location in 2007, but the chain has since dwindled to a handful of locations as other franchise owners chose to “deflag” or shut down altogether after their 10-year agreements expired.

Not ready to call it quits when their own franchise agreement ran out late last year, the Carlsons decided to make a clean break, hence the rebranding. They’ve kept the basic template, and said they’ll continue to carry hard-to-find candy, old-school board games and toys, gelato and locally made treats by Tanya Sue’s Toffee and The Joker’s Bakery.

“There’s been some confusion in the community with people thinking we’re new owners, but we’re the same people,” Hal said. “We have the same staff and products. The name is different and there’s a few minor changes, but the heart of it remains the same.”

Hal said the newfound independence has given them a new outlook: “Emotionally, it’s been a wonderful thing,” he said. “Now there are no more dark clouds; it’s all sunshine.”

That sunny sentiment is in line with the candy shop’s overall feel, which the Carlsons said they still find invigorating after 10 years in their “new” business.

“Most people walk out of here with a smile on their face,” Hal said. “Maybe they see something that brings back a good memory from their past.”

“I love working here because the nature of the whole business is fun,” Nancy added. “The college students on our staff, all the kids and babies that come in … they all keep me young at heart.”

—Ken Smith