Oct 21, 2018
Jeremy Liles talked with visitors Saturday as excited crowds make their way through the new Oliver’s Candies facility on Main Street.
Only a few days ago, the iconic local candy maker had shipped 1,000 pounds of sponge candy — an order which would have been impossible if the business had only been operating out if its original location in Batavia.
And that’s exactly why Oliver’s had expanded into the additional property.
“Space — The No. 1 answer is space,” Liles said, a few minutes after a ribbon cutting marked the location’s official grand opening. “It’s all about needing to grow. We were probably in need of space maybe five years ago. We’ve been busting at the seams, growing every year.”
The celebration was a milestone for the popular, 86-year-old candy making business. The new property — which includes a large new production space, along with the new Sweet-Life Country Store — had debuted in June, adding 30,000 square feet of production and sales space. In comparison, the original Batavia location encompasses about 14,000 square feet.
That’s created a lot of elbow room for workers, along with an expanded set of business opportunities. Maple candy, cashews and peanuts sat ready on separate tables inside the production space, waiting to be used in the finely-produced local treats.
Has it had an impact?
“Oh yeah, we’ve picked up a couple new large customers because now we have the capacity to say ‘Yes,’” Liles said. “Before, they would come to us and say, ‘Can you make us 20,000 pounds of french cremes?’ and we were like, ‘What, are you kidding me? No way.’ And now we can say, ‘We can do that.’”
A tradition of quality
Oliver’s was originally started in 1932 in Batavia by Joseph Boyd Oliver, who blanched peanuts at his home, and sold them at stores and gas stations. He eventually developed tasty homemade recipes — still highly-popular today — before the business in 1960 with the stipulation that they keep the same quality of chocolate and candies that Oliver’s was known for.
Visiting crowds and area officials were highly-impressed with the new facility, but it’s still a work in progress. And it probably will be, as long as the company operates.
Oliver’s had about 28 employees before the Elba facility opened, Liles said. Now it has about 35.
“Not only did we add employees, we added equipment,” he said. “Before, we had a delivery van, but now we’ve got a van, a pickup and a box truck ... a lot of things happened at once. We’re full-bore now. We’re going for Christmas now. It’s big.”
The facility was making Christmas kisses on Friday, and had switched to sponge candy on Saturday, he said.
Over in the building’s chocolate room, workers were making cremes, clusters and chocolate-covered popcorn.
“They can really crank through and keep doing a lot of things at once,” Liles said.
What’s it like being at the helm of such an operation as it grows and expands?
“Some days panic,” Liles said, laughing a bit. “You know, it’s stressful because you’ve got to make sure it succeeds. Every day you want to make sure you’ve got the customer base.
“On the other hand, you want to make sure you don’t outgrow our britches,” he continued. “We want to make sure we aren’t growing too fast. We want to make sure we maintain all the quality that everybody wants and expects of Oliver’s.
“We are not going for customers like Wal-Mart or Wegman’s,” he continued. “I don’t want to be a mass producer, I don’t want to be Hershey’s. We want to maintain our quality and excellence. “That’s important to us. Customer service is important to us.”
The new space likewise offers now opportunities at the original Oliver’s location on 211 West Main St. in Batavia. Liles said he wants to create a seating atmosphere where people can sit and use wi-fi — keeping it “old school” while meeting the needs of the modern age.
Visiting residents and officials were more than impressed with the new facility.
President Tom Turnbull of the Genesee County Chamber of Commerce was among those who celebrated the ribbon cutting.
“Oliver’s has always been one of the top tourist attractions in the county,” he said. “It’s amazing how many buses and tourists end up coming to the store.
“But it does two things,” he continued. “It gives them a production for this facility out here in Elba, and it gives them more space for retail in Batavia. And it gives them a bit of retail space in Elba.”
It’s the kind of locally-based economic growth of which local officials dream.
Oliver’s had run out of space for expansion in Batavia, which means they’re growing, and growing is good, Turnbull said.
“It’s a great facility and it’s got to be a nice place to work,” he said.
Jeremy and Nicole Koch were touring the production building with their 9-year-old daughter Grace.
Nicole said she had toured the original location years ago.
“To know what it was, and what it is now, is awesome,” she said. “We’re from Elba, so it’s nice to have something coming in.
“We’ve seen a lot going out, and it’s nice to see something coming in,” she continued. “We know the business is growing and they’re going to be a part of the community now, which is cool.” Plus they’ve got good, high-quality candy, and they can stop at the Elba storefront to get some on their way home.
“Christmas, Valentine’s sometimes birthdays, those are usually the staples,” Nicole said. “But now it can kind of become part of the everyday.”
Grace said sponge candy is her favorite and she found the location cool. The best part, of course, is eating the chocolate.
Gretchen Bluchard of Bethany was touring the location with her husband Don, snapping cellphone photos along the way for her classroom of students at Perry Central School.
“It’s amazing,” she said. “It’s huge and it’s good. It’s so much more of an opportunity to expand.”
Yet they’re still keeping the old location, Bluchard said.
“Obviously it’s huge,” she said. “It gives them different stations and they’re spread out more. It will be interesting to see how Oliver’s expands beyond the local area.”
She said Oliver’s has been a regular stop for visiting relatives or gifts.
Those reactions are exactly what a business owner wants to hear.
The new facility will likely always be in progress as a matter of practical business, and there’s a lot of features Liles still wants to pursue.
The shipping and receiving room will be completed, he said. A more-sterile environment will probably limit tours, but Oliver’s is looking at making the tour an annual event.
“I think it will be fun, once a year, to have people come through and say, “Holy cow, look at the changes,” Liles said.
As for Saturday, the location was making an impact both visually and business-wise.
“I want people to walk in and go, ‘Wow’,” Liles said. “I think in this industry, that’s what we’ve got to do. Any retail-type industry, you’ve got walk in and go, ‘Wow, I’m impressed!”