Sweet Shoppe gets sour response

Let’s say a candy shop wanted to come into downtown Chico. And let’s say the owners wanted to be “an asset to the community and help wherever we can"—by assisting local schools with fundraising efforts, for example.

This is a place we’d all want to support, right?

Unfortunately, that’s not quite the way it’s working out for Nancy and Hal Carlson, who plan to open a candy store in the space now occupied by the Redwood Forest restaurant.

Because a recent newspaper report seemed to suggest that the Carlsons were out-of-towners who were supplanting the Redwood Forest, some of the restaurant’s long-time fans have told its current owners, Les and Tracy Hord, they plan to boycott the new store.

This has the Hords concerned. They’re sad that a recent rent hike has rendered their business financially unfeasible, but they sincerely hope the new owners are welcomed as warmly as they were when they bought the Forest.

That was back in 1993. At the time Les worked as a beer and wine wholesaler, and Tracy had been with Gold Country Market (on 5th and Flume streets) from the day it opened and was the store’s manager when it closed.

When the Hords bought the restaurant, which first opened in 1976, it was primarily a lunch establishment. They felt they could improve the business by serving dinners. Les put in a wine bar with tastings and developed one of the first deep wine lists in town.

“We didn’t have any restaurant experience at the time,” Les Hord recalled. “We learned a lot of things the hard way over the years.”

The Hords know what it takes to make a business go. That’s why Les Hord grates a little when he hears complaints about the new store owners.

“I am very distressed that I have had a lot of negative comments about [the Carlsons],” he said. “The real story is that they didn’t push us out at all. We’ve met them. They are very nice people; they’re a couple just like us who are very excited about becoming part of the downtown business community like we were. I hope that people will not associate our leaving with their coming. It’s just business.”

Right now the Hords don’t know what’s in store. They’re just planning to take a little time off and, as Les says, “see where our paths lead.”

Nancy and Hal Carlson plan to call their store Powell’s Sweet Shoppe. They had been looking for a location since last April when this one came up.

Hal was born and raised in Chico and attended local schools. The couple met at Chico State University in the 1970s. His major was agricultural business, and the two moved to Sonoma County to “follow his career,” Nancy said. Nancy, whose major was food and nutrition, had worked in a candy store in Windsor, north of Santa Rosa. They have two daughters, both students at Chico State.

Hal’s father, Don, is 94. He was a long-time fixture in downtown, working for more than 50 years as a jeweler for Bedford’s Jewelry (which, ironically, was right next to the Redwood Forest, where the bank parking lot is now). Hal remembers as a kid going down there to visit his dad working in the store.

“We’ve always had this dream of a fabulous candy store, so we decided to bring it to Chico,” Nancy said. “It’s just a fun place to be. Everyone who comes into the store is happy.”

The Carlsons expect a large walk-in trade and plan on being open seven days a week. Their shop will have a candy counter, barrels of bulk candy and 36 flavors of gelato.

“I truly don’t feel like we’re out-of-towners,” Nancy said. “I just hope that people will come to see what we’re all about and enjoy what we have to offer.”

For his part, Les Hord intends to be the first person in line when the Carlsons open their doors: “I really think they need the same kind of support from the community that we were able to get.”