Selling a sweet chance to launch a new chapter

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Minerva Candy Company still has its original equipment, including copper kettles and vintage thermometers, which date back to the shop’s start more than 100 years ago.

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Minerva moved into its current location eight years after the store began. 

WEBB CITY – Even though it’s been shuttered since 2014, sunlight still smiles through the windows at Minerva Candy Company. It doesn’t look like the kitchen knows anything has changed: It’s chock full of vintage candy-making equipment, just as it’s been since the shop took over the building in 1913.

“Everything is still here but the business,” says Mary Hamsher, who owns the building with her husband, Tom. “And the people.”

After trying their hand at running the shop, the Hamshers decided that perhaps it wasn’t for them. Now they’re ready to give someone else a shot at preserving this local landmark: The building, and all its contents, are for sale.

“We just want to keep it alive,” says Hamsher. “It’s just that the right person has got to come in here to keep it and appreciate it.”

Heritage throwback

Minerva’s story is a long one: The shop was opened in 1905 by the Klenkious family, who launched stores in Joplin, Carthage and Webb City after moving to the Ozarks — by way of St. Louis — from Greece.

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Jim Mallos worked in the kitchen at Minerva into his 90s. 

In 1921, the Mallos family purchased the Webb City business. The efforts were led by patriarch Jim Mallos, also from Greece, who was introduced to the art of candy making as a child.

Even though it’s been more than 35 years since he set foot in the candy kitchen, most of it looks very similar to his last day at work. He designed the room himself, said a newspaper article from 1980, and he took special pride in how it was laid out. “Every time you take a step, you’ve done something,” he said back then of the candy making process.

Under his leadership, the family made dozens of varieties of candy: The store specialized in chocolate and other confectionary items until 1952, when hard candy hit the store. And come Christmas, its famous candy canes became large — both in size and popularity. “They had lots of orders — big orders,” says Hamsher. “They sold to the hospitals and big businesses.”

Mallos continued making the sweet stuff into his 90s before he passed away in 1981. The family operated the business until 1995, when it was closed. Ten years later, it temporarily reopened in celebration of Minerva’s centennial.

Restoring history

The Hamshers came into the picture in 2011, when they purchased the aging building with hopes of restoring it and bringing the business back to life.

Rehabbing the building turned out to be the easy part: Among other things, the couple addressed heat and air conditioning, added new wiring, plumbing and electrical and gave everything a nice new coat of paint.

The Hamshers also remodeled the second floor into two apartments, revamped the exterior, restored the original tin ceilings and tile floor and found people to bring the vintage candy-making equipment back to par.

They even remodeled an adjoining building — used by the previous owners for storage and candy packaging — into a seating area so they could have more space to start serving up food.

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Tom and Mary Hamsher completely remodeled Minerva Candy Company, but kept original features such as the blue-and-white tile floor, cabinetry, pressed tin ceiling and wall decor.

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Despite their efforts — and hundreds of thousands of dollars — things just didn’t take off as they’d planned. “We thought when we restored it, (people) would come back,” says Hamsher. “And they did. But not enough.”

Part of the problem is probably location: In the past, Webb City’s downtown district was much livelier than it is today. “There’s not a lot of businesses open down here, so we just didn’t have the people to come (shop),” says Hamsher, who also notes that the stop’s close proximity to really Route 66 didn’t make difference, either. “It’s half a block off — and whatever’s off (the route), it’s off,” she says.

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The Hamshers believe that the decor inside Minerva was the result of a kit.

One traveling-by customer, however, gave an interesting gift. The customer, a fellow candy store owner from Illinois, found that Minerva looked exactly the same as her shop back home. It seems that the store’s interior decorations — the tiles, the wall decor and the cabinetry — were purchased as a kit. The similarities continued out front: Both shops even had their name tiled near the doorway.

After trying to operate the business for around a year and a half, the couple decided to call it quits early in 2014. “Between Easter and Halloween, (we figured) that’s going to be a long dry spell,” says Hamsher. “So we just closed it and left everything as is.”

In the kitchen

Even though the candy store is closed, the Hamshers still make candy canes during the Christmas season. “It’s just to help keep it alive in people’s minds,” says Hamsher.

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From left to right: Vintage thermometers and copper kettles, original Carthage-concrete tables, a taffy pull, and equipment that twists the candy into striped canes.

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The Hamshers continue to make candy canes for Christmas, just like they did in December 2015.

She walks through the kitchen, explaining how the process works.

First come the copper kettles, which are filled with sugar, corn syrup and water to make the basis for the canes.

“And then you throw it on this table to cool it down,” she says, pointing to the original Carthage marble slabs — two of ’em — which fill the center of the room. After it cools a bit, globs of the cooled concoction are removed to be colored, and a taffy puller-like machine helps aerate the rest, which turns it white.

“Then you put it on this machine, and it twirls it around like a rope,” says Hamsher of another piece of equipment that looks much like an old-fashioned rope maker. Scissors snip the soft candy into lengths — six sizes span from six to 48 inches — before they’re hand-crooked and set to cool completely before being packaged.

Along the way, other ingredients are added to give the four flavors which they made last year: Cinnamon, clove, wintergreen and peppermint, the latter which is still the clear favorite. “It takes a while to make a big ol’ batch of this,” says Hamsher, who notes that a batch equals around 45 pounds of candy. “You know, it’s not just 1-2-3.”

That said, Hamsher says that she and her husband will help whoever buys the business learn the ropes. “It’s not a difficult thing, but it’s not (an) every day thing,” she says. “It’s kind of a lost art.”

Interested in continuing a tradition?

Contact Tom and Mary Hamsher at 417-437-1862 or 417-850-5166 for more information about the business, or click here to learn more. The building can also be rented for special events.


2 thoughts on “Selling a sweet chance to launch a new chapter

  1. Great story,
    Sad that such a historic piece of history can not flourish. Hey, you mentioned Bracken as your roots, so to speak. Have you written anything about that area. From my journal, this writing I did is something that might interest you to research the Bracken area.
    Bracken Missouri……the STORE
    Picture courtesy of the Webster County Historical Web Site
    It is amazing how things change over the years. I was and am certainly guilty of not appreciating that fact during my youth. Like most teenagers, I thought things never changed and I was going to live forever. I do recall some good memories and one of them is about my summer visits to the Bracken country store, Bracken, Missouri.
    As I grow older, I occasionally have periods when I take pleasure in recalling some of the interesting periods of my life. A lot of them seem to be coupled with the farm work I did with my father’s brother. My Uncle William Dyche and Aunt Pauline did not have any children at the time and I sort of fell into the opportunity of spending my summers helping where I could on the main family farm. My dad had not done well as a farmer and so had gone off to work in the city leaving the rest of the family on the non-working farm with him coming home on weekends from working at McDonnell Aircraft in St. Louis, Missouri. At first, my assignments were helping my elderly grandma Elizabeth (Sallie) Dyche with her garden. My reward there was usually a piece of cherry rhubarb pie. Sounds nasty, but it was so sweet and delicious, I would hoe her garden all day for a piece of it. Later after her passing, it was to just help when asked. Usually, I would get to steer the tractor that was pulling a hay wagon around the field. My uncle and his hired hand bucked the bales onto the wagon. My reward for that task was usually to go once a year with Uncle Bill and Aunt Pauline to the Green County Fair in Springfield.
    I still cherish those opportunities to work and remember especially the special trip to town my uncle Bill made one summer day to buy me a cowboy hat. Supposedly it was so I did not burn my bald head working out in the hay fields that summer. This time I was not driving a tractor but old enough to stay on the wagon and stack bales of hay. My uncle later said he made the special trip because I looked like a prisoner after my mother shaved my head for the summer. That was something a lot of farm boys did and it was not for fashion as it is today.
    I recently looked up Bracken, Missouri on the Internet after one of my nostalgic moments. I wanted to see if it was still recognized as a community. I had not been there in years, and now living hundreds of miles away, it was not on my way home so to speak to visit. It was to my surprise, still referenced as a valid location on some maps and certainly on the U.S. Geological Survey information page.
    The real find though was this picture which brought back memories even more clearly. I owe some kind soul that posted it on the web site of Webster County Historical Society. The area around it has carried the name of High Prairie for years and I guess the fact that a church, Black Oak Baptist with a very big grave yard keeps the area as a focal point. Not a lot of farm families come to mind as having lived in the Bracken area. My Aunt and Uncle’s farm was not far, across the Niangua Fork and about four miles as the crow flies but about 6 miles by gravel road. At the time that area being associated more with the community of Niangua than any other area. My uncle and I would venture over to the old Bracken store on hot summer day to get a cold soda pop. But I think it was really my uncle’s escape from the farm, grandma and Pauline’s “honey-do” list.
    My uncle apparently enjoyed just sitting in the almost dark old store and talking for hours with Old Man Clift as they called him and later his son Lloyd who took over the store full time after the old man died. I know that my uncle and he were about the same age and enjoyed the conversation with one another which always amounted to an accumulation of what each had heard was going on in their respective communities and certainly in their own perspective of what it all meant.
    No one to my knowledge other than the Clift family actually lived in the township called Bracken. The elder Lloyd Clift lived above the store; the son built a house a few hundred feet away at the intersection of Bracken Road and what became Hwy DD. The store was always just a spot in the road before a creek crossing, that maybe you would slow down enough to make sure you did not run over any dogs. Rural people always have dogs and they run out to greet you when they see you coming. Of course that is a “ha-ha” to those of you who know about unleashed dogs and their pension to chase cars. Some even stupid enough to try and bite the moving tires. Guess that is why they call them “dumb animals”.
    I cannot attest to how busy it might have been in its early days of its existence as a country store. I am sure it was a center of activity for the area. I always got the feeling it was important to the area. Obviously, it was prominent enough during the drawing up of the county divisions; to have it was named as a township. I looked up township for a definition and the word was defined as a small geographical area that was considered a “settlement”, a word used to depict a grouping of homes. Again, there were very few homes I can remember, but my experience was during the period from 1950 to1968 before I went off to college, never to return as I had done before to the Bracken area.
    Many years ago as the pioneers of the area settled, I have read that a lot of these small country stores popped up and it was for a number of reasons. Mostly, it was simply because of the need for a communications and trading center for an isolated area, sometimes even called a “trading post”, a term that gives us a very simplistic picture of a group of trappers meeting fur buyers at a designated tree albeit post in the wilderness somewhere. These stores were much more permanently located and existed much later in the story of rural America than the trading posts did. It was in early rural America that freight wagons served the isolated areas these stores were located in. Often these wagon entrepreneurs were called “drayage” companies. They delivered their freight to accessible deliver points such as these country stores in areas not served by rivers or railroads. Perishable goods and farm equipment was what they delivered the most of and it was not people.
    I am sure during the bartering process that usually took place in earlier times; a lot of information was traded as well a lot of stories that were not true. People in such regions of our country were shielded from the rest of the world just living day to day fighting for a meager existence on small farms. People were so eager for news that the one page newspapers could exist and did when there was enough population to support one. The benefit of community was what these stores provided, something that small rural churches did as well. People had a place to go and meet to meet a basic human desire of having communication, socialization which has been defined as “community”. At these small rural churches many people got their needs met for maintaining the morality of their lives, but it was at the country store that they got the basic staples for their continued existence, place to sell their excess for cash, or get some other basic rendering done such as getting grain milled. Even short distances isolated many areas from larger towns in early times with roads almost non-existent and trails limited to horseback or walking.
    I am sure Bracken area was no different than other stores of that era. For many years in early America there was no cash to be had, everything was traded for. I remember Bracken store as being sort of a “pawn shop” of the period anyway. The Clift family was always trading for something or providing a “money to loan” opportunity to the small farmers that did not have a crop yet to afford to pay cash or have something to trade with. I am told that it was during this period that people had not yet overcome issues of the depression when banks became notorious for foreclosures and tight lending practices. These country stores took the risk of not getting paid ever, and even with the high cost of doing business there with exorbitant pricing, the locals remained loyal to them for helping them in times of need. Families did come and go from the rural Midwest and I am reminded of the stories written by Laura Ingalls Wilder of her family moving several times across Nebraska, Kansas, and Missouri trying to stay ahead of unpaid debt.
    I do remember people leaving things for people to pick up at the store. Some came by to just use the phone. I remember a basic local charge posted and long distance then still required connection to an operator and a calculation done on the amount of the cost for a long distance call. I do not think Bracken was ever recognized as a post office. I know that RFD, rural free delivery of the mail was a concept that got started in the late 1890s and was well established by the early 1900s. Still, delivery was often to settlements, small pockets of people across the rural areas of our nation in the earlier days of the previous century. Places like these stores, even schools where children could take the mail home to their parents ended some of the isolation that the rural areas had when news could be spread quickly via the “free delivery” of the mail.
    As I have said, the store was but a couple of gravel roads away from my uncle’s farm and we could just about go cross country to it on a tractor and I believe we did a time or two. I am not sure anyone, meaning my aunt or grandma ever caught on to our hiding out at the Bracken store. I want to believe that anyway. It was so easy back then to get lost on the “back forty” as they used to say. The store was always an interesting place to visit with all of the things spread out all over the place. While my uncle and Lloyd gossiped, I would wander the store sipping my pop looking at the things which over time were like museum pieces since a lot of the stuff was farm related for canning or food preservation purposes. Bolts of cloth that had been ordered and not picked up or maybe it was just a sack of flour that somebody wanted that they had resting against the door sill.
    I used to wonder where Lloyd came up with all of the interesting things he could talk about, but being alone for hours in that store, he could read up on the latest news in the periodicals that he received or should I say that other’s received and he took the opportunity to read them before the addressed person came to pick them up. I am sure he accumulated a lot of information from the other locals as well that ventured as we did into the store for no other reason than to do just that, gossip. Conversations on the phone were never private and I am sure they picked up on a lot of gossip there. I often wondered how much Lloyd could glean from ordinary mail in his care. I do remember him reading a letter for an old lady who either could not read or was not able to see well enough to read. We all heard about her grandchildren way off in far-away St. Louis, Missouri that afternoon.
    My uncle would sometimes take my cousin Gary Fraker and I to the store. It was usually around the Fourth of July because he would buy us some fireworks that the store stocked for just that occasion. I sometimes think that event was contrived by my grandmother or aunt to get us away from underfoot. One or the other would say, go find your uncle and help him for a while, meaning we were getting under foot and they wanted us to go elsewhere. Back then, the women of the household would fix these big meals and it took some effort to get the job done, so I can see why they wanted us to go away. Especially during harvest season when there were extra hands on the farm to get the crops in, a lot more mouths to feed.
    My earliest memory of farm work was when my uncle put me on a tractor at 6 and telling me to steer the tractor to the end of the field while the older men loaded shocks of wheat onto the wagon for the threshing machine to separate the grain from the straw. The threshing machine was a fixed farm implement at a stationary location nearby and at the time powered by a big steam engine tractor. At the end of the field, he would jump onto the back of the tractor, reach over me and steer the tractor around for another pass across the field. I could not reach the brakes, clutch or gear shift. The gas was on the steering wheel back then and I could slow it down or speed it up. I too would feast with the others at the dinner table, remembering my responsibility instilled in all farm kids to not waste anything and eat everything on my plate. I once had to eat a plate full of mashed turnips which I had thought were mashed potatoes. Lesson learned from that experience because mashed turnips might look like mashed potatoes, they do not taste like it.
    The Bracken store was everything you would expect in a turn of the century store. The variety of goods was very limited to one brand usually and not much in the way of quantity with no coolers for food storage, it had to be consumed quickly and was limited to canned, dry goods as it were called. Bracken had a small barn across the road on the edge of a creek. At one time, there was a mill pond and a grind stone set up to slowly mill grain brought to the store by locals for their own use. The usual corn cob de-cobber stood conveniently for anyone to use as long as they used their own arm to turn the handle. That was a strange gizmo that allowed one ear of corn at a time to be placed in the chute and with a hand crank; you could remove all of the corn. Then have it ground into meal or just cracked for the cows and chickens to eat. I never saw the mill in operation, but I did see old man Clift grinding the corn with an electric grinder for somebody. What remained of the mill pond was just a good place for my cousin Gary and I to throw our “cherry bomb” fireworks into each year trying to kill minnows. Never succeeded in that but got wet trying.
    I remember finding something on a table or in a display case every now and then that I wanted, but my dad had made a comment when I was there with him that you could always find things cheaper in town. He meant Marshfield, Missouri. Times had changed. Dad had a truck and had been away from the farm for WWII. He knew it was the end for such stores; big towns had stores with better prices. I of course realize that the Clift family was just trying to make a living, but it was becoming painfully obvious that the store could not go on. I remember my uncle asking Lloyd how long he was going to keep the store open. Lloyd had quit another job to run the store after his dad died. He said that a lot of old people in the area depended on him and the store, but the end was near. A few years later, I would meet Lloyd again, this time he was the office manager at the Marshfield Steel Plant.
    That old store would be called a “junk store” today because of the variety of things that were too good to throw away but had reached antique status for the most part, but you can only get what people are willing to pay for something and the inventory was way behind in that area and if it was sold at auction, I doubt the Clift family got even on the sale. So, I am not sure how the store kept the lights on for as long as it did. I did not see them selling much, just filling orders for locals. Lloyd was fascinated that I could gulp down a 3V Cola in a short period. More than once he offered me another one free if I could chug it like I did the first one. They were 16 oz. at a time when the familiar Coca-Colas were still 8 oz. I am sure though the pennies that they made on my soda pop drinking did not keep the store open and I believe it closed in the early 1960s.
    I remember Lloyd chasing after me one day because he did not want me to take the bottle with me because it was worth 2 cents deposit. When I was 15 I bought a car from Lloyd that he had traded for trying to help a nurse that had just come home after serving in the military in Germany. It was a little German car called a Borgward, it had been rear ended and so was not something appealing but it ran and I had save up the $40 he had to have for it. Remember this was a rural area and I had been driving real farm vehicles somewhat legally since I was 12. You could get a driver’s license for farm vehicles at 14. I guess I got my $40 worth because for a while I tore up the gravel back roads with that little car until I blew the freeze plugs and locked up the engine. With the help of another uncle, Kenneth Wilson I learned that it was going to take more money than there was in the whole world to fix that car, almost $1,000. So it sat and became part of the land preservation scheme of my brother to inhibit erosion by placing it in a washout on our family farm.
    .From Wikipedia-Borgward was originally a German automobile manufacturer founded by Carl F. W. Borgward (November 10, 1890 – July 28, 1963), which ceased operations in the 1960s. The company was based in Bremen. The Borgward group eventually produced four brands of cars: Borgward, Hansa, Goliath and Lloyd.
    This is a 1957 Borgward, Isabella model-mine was all white though
    So, my last business experience with the Clift family did not end well. As I said before, I would see the Lloyd Clift a few years later when I worked temporarily at the Steel Plant during my summer off from college. He had closed the store and was the office manager for the Marshfield Steel Plant. He signed me up for work, did my payroll paperwork for me in other words. He and my dad were good friends, they did the social thing about being amazed I had grown up enough to work at the steel plant. Lloyd cautioned me about making sure my social security number was correct on the paperwork or my social security payments by the company would go to someone else. I am sure he was right, but found it fascinating that it was so important to him that I do it right. I can now say without a doubt that he was one of the most “remarkable people” I have ever known. He walked with a slight limp, making me wonder if it was a war injury, an industrial accident or just a physical disability. Maybe I can research him a little more someday and learn something else about this remarkable man from my life.
    Remembering the old store as not being too fancy was easy because it was not, and it could never compete with those in town. It was a great memory though. Dad had gotten the steel plant manager to hire me for the summer before I went off to college. That got me into town and exposed to a lot of city folks who managed to change my perspective on life a little more. These city folks were different from my Bracken store brethren. I had to toughen up a lot to deal with their ways which included a lot of horseplay and harassment, but I realize all were a product of their background, but I prefer the country people, the Bracken people that treated everyone the same.
    Note: From the Webster County Historical site webpage- The Bracken Store was the center of the local community. For many years, the store was operated by Lloyd and Bernice Clift, who purchased it from Lloyd’s parents. The store was open through the 1960s, when it was closed. Other elements of the Bracken community were the Black Oak Freewill Baptist Church (which is still in operation today), a school and a post office.
    This is another old store from the area.
    Inside the Bracken store was not this orderly as this picture shows of a store from the early days. Instead, over the years things just piled up in piles and only the goods that people actually ordered were on display which was usually bolts of cloth, bags of sugar or flour. A gathering place around an old wood stove and a pop machine was what it was for the most part.
    Feature Detail Report for: Bracken

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