Crazy about a candy store
The Russell Stover Factory Outlet in Citrus County is big enough to get lost in and fulfills every craving.
By CATHERINE E. SHOICHET
Published February 14, 2007
WILDWOOD - They giggle. They point. They munch and they crunch.
From her station at the sample table, Maxine Wilson greets more than 1,000 customers streaming through the doors of the Russell Stover Factory Outlet each day. And she watches them react.
They raise their eyebrows. They open their mouths. And sometimes, she said, "they just say, 'Ooh.' "
Many customers are older than 60. But it takes only one bite to turn a retiree into a kid in a 10,000-square-foot candy store.
"I didn't come here to buy anything," said Larry Marshall, 62, of Winter Haven as he sampled a dark chocolate truffle. "I just came here for lunch."
Off State Road 44 just east of Interstate 75, the store is a popular stop for snowbirds, tour buses and last-minute holiday shoppers.
Shopping carts cram the aisles, darting between tens of thousands of chocolate boxes. The sound of laughter and crinkling candy packages fills the air.
"They're amazed. They get a little overwhelmed. Some of them get a little greedy," said Ruby Harrison, an assistant manager at the store. "To them, it's like a theme park."
The National Confectioners Association estimated that more than 36-million heart-shaped chocolate boxes will be sold this Valentine's Day. In Wildwood, the options seem infinite, from heart-shaped boxes covered with velvet to tins adorned with pictures of Elvis.
And for those with a different sort of sweet tooth, there are other candy choices: jelly beans, licorice and peppermints, among others. The store also stocks low-carb and sugar-free products.
Some items come with significant discounts, because they're older, overstocked or made with imperfections, said Ray Warrick, another assistant manager at the store.
"I'd never seen anything like it as far as this much candy in one place," he said. "Six years ago when I started here, I would have never guessed that people spend as much money on candy as they do."
While working the register, Warrick said, he has seen customers spend between 49 cents and $600.
On Monday, Susan Wilcox spent $37.37.
The 50-year-old Inverness resident said she purchased several boxes of chocolate for her kids.
"Some of it I bought for the ride home," she said. "It's my emergency chocolate fix."
Sally Pickern, 59, of Valrico came to the store with a busload of choir members from Brandon's First Baptist Church. She left with bags stuffed with chocolate heart boxes for her grandchildren.
The choir previously had passed by on several trips to St. Augustine.
"We just begged to stop before, but we didn't have time," she said. "When we pulled into the parking lot today, everybody just cheered."
Fred Parsons, 70, of Crystal River looked a little less cheerful.
"I lost my wife," he said. "I don't know where she is."
She turned up a few minutes later, candy in hand.
"The first time I came in here, I got a buggy and I filled it plum full," he said. "We've still got some of that candy in the freezer. But we keep coming back."Catherine E. Shoichet can be reached at 352 860-7309 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
. if you go
Go candy wild
The Russell Stover Factory Outlet, 950 Industrial Drive, Wildwood, is off State Road 44 just east of Exit 329 on Interstate 75.
- Sept. 5 through April 12: 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Saturday and 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday.
- April 13 through Sept. 4: 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Saturday and noon to 5 p.m. Sunday.
Call: (352) 748-6282.