Monday, May 11, 2009

Stillwells, Hard Times for Humbugs

a story in the May 5th Gazette , reads  "Hard Times for Humbugs"  it seems the old familiar Stillwells Humbugs store is Closed,.( at least ,closed to the public,I read into the story they are supplying a few stores around Montreal,wholesale I guess,or maybe they are done completely)....I had 3 of my 4 sisters work at the Verdun store over the years for the Mrs Light , & Connie Light, there was also a Johnny Light..blah blah blah, but they were in business for a long time.

Here's the Gazette story

The humble Humbug, a traditional British hard candy that began a popular run in Montreal during the Great Depression, has fallen on tough times in this latest recession.

Stilwell's Home Made Candy Store, the Verdun confectionary shop that opened in September 1933 and became world famous for its distinct version of Humbugs, is now closed to the public.

At its peak, Stilwell's sold at least a ton of Humbugs a year to sweet-toothed fans as far away as Europe, Russia, China and Japan.

Now, devotees are reduced to only five retail locations, all in Montreal, where they can still buy their beloved Humbugs.

The son-in-law of Kathleen (Kay) Light, the Stilwell's matriarch of the family business who died nearly a decade ago at 83, continues making Humbugs on a limited basis.

"I do it as a side job when more special orders are needed," said Lorne Jenkins, who is also keeper of the still-secret Humbug recipe that Light's parents, Richard and Constance Stilwell, brought with them when they moved here from England in 1914.

Jenkins has directed some of the loyal customers to the remaining outlets that continue to carry the Humbugs.

"We sell tons," said Toni Cochand, owner of Le Panier, a Pointe Claire Village emporium reminiscent of an old-fashioned New England store.

"Everybody wants the Humbugs, so we keep packages on each of our four cash registers," she said.

They sold more than 3,200 225-gram bags last year, which is about the annual average, she said.

Cochand suggested Humbugs are especially popular in the West Island and Westmount because Stilwell's "is a particularly English tradition."

Deli Plus Frank & Fred, also in Pointe Claire, has many regular customers who buy Humbugs, co-owner Fred Caligiuri said.

Penny Charbonneau, an employee at Westmont Stationary Inc., said: "It's one of our most demanded products. We sell about 25 bags a week when it's in stock and at least 50 bags a week during the peak Christmas season."

Judy Owen, manager of the St. Mary's Hospital Centre gift shop, says they sell about 75 bags a month.

"We do great with them. We've been selling them for 30 years or more," Owen said. "It's a staple."

Nancy Daly at the Montreal General Hospital gift shop calls Humbugs "kind of a steady seller" to the tune of about three dozen bags a month.

Ross Moore, a long-time aficionado, was saddened to learn of the closing.

"I got hooked the first time I tried them," recalled the 76-year-old Lachine man. "I always had them in a jar in my car and in the house."

Jenkins points to a pair of circumstances that led to shutting the Centrale St. store in LaSalle about a year ago: the location itself and the struggling economy that saw people spending less on non-essentials like candy.

He conceded it wasn't well advertised when Stilwell's moved from the original store on Verdun's main drag, Wellington St., in January 1999 to the less-visible Centrale locale.

And because of the increasing cost of the Humbug's staple ingredients - black molasses, butter, pure peppermint oil and the darkest brown sugar available - the price per pound has almost doubled to $7.50. It was 75 cents a pound 40 years ago.

In an attempt to keep his family off social assistance during the Great Depression after losing his job in 1927, violinist and artist Richard Stilwell and Kay began peddling fudge bars baked by his eldest daughter, Gladys.

Kay sold them for a nickel each to caddies at the Mount Royal Golf Club while Stilwell bicycled into Montreal's business district, where he earned $2 to $3 a week selling ribboned boxes of the fudge.

After he was arrested for selling without a permit, Stilwell resorted to delivering call-in orders around town with the help of another daughter, Jeanne.

Jeanne worked at Bell Canada and with all those numbers at her disposal, promoted her sister's fudge and took the phone orders.

Sales were so good, they rented space for walk-in business for about 10 months, during which time they added Humbugs and other speciality candies to their selection. Then they moved to the permanent Wellington St. shop.

Meanwhile, Jenkins hasn't ruled out reopening in a new spot "in the future."

       ---   " the times , they are a changing......"    ------- bob dylan


john allison said...

Yes. There is nothing as constant as change!!!

edward iwasiw said...

I spent a lot of time at Stilwells, as I was a good friend of Johnny. The candies were exceptionally good, but his sister was one mean person. When back in Mtl. I would purchase humbugs for my mother and mother in law, and as the years went by she would still sneer and snarl at me. A great memory!

Steve Gladwish said...

My son-in-law told me last week they were closing and he was going home for a he is going to get some if he can..

Steve Gladwish said...

Got a bag....aahhh..!!

sondra scott-neeson said...

Sorry to hear that Stillwells closed. Do they take orders for humbugs over the internet? Sondra in B.C.

Les F said...

Sondra this is the most recent info I have on Stillwells, ( I had to find it on the net,& it's dated to just this past December ,so that fairly close)
-After 1999 it moved to Lasalle but closed down in 2009 due to tough economic times. However the humbug is still handmade by Mr Jenkins , son-in-law of the original owners and available at 5 locations in and around Montreal. They are sold @ Le Panier in Pointe-Claire, Deli Plus Frank & Fred also in Pointe Claire, Westmont Stationary Inc, St. Mary's Hospital Centre gift shop, Montreal General Hospital gift shop.
also Sondra here is the link to the site where I found that brief information:
Good luck maybe you will find some to enjoy,....... Cheers !! HF&RV