With a history as rich as its candies, Hepzibah's Sweet Shoppe has a special place in the hearts of those who shop there.
Hepzibah's is located in the historic DeWitt-Seitz Marketplace building, which is located in the Canal Park area of downtown Duluth. The store has an interesting history, but to get the full story, one must talk to Celia and Tina Anderson. Tina is the current owner of the store, following the leadership of her mother, Celia, who sold her the store about ten years ago.
"I worked with my mom for a long time, and she still comes in to help almost every day," Tina said.
When asked how she came up with the idea for the store, Tina said that her mother was originally planning to open a tea shop with her.
"We had floor plans and were looking at buildings," Tina said. "The more we got into it, the more worried I became.”
Tina said that her mother had never had any experience with opening that kind of business before. The two eventually decided to drop the idea, and Tina moved to the Twin Cities to look for work.
But Celia wasn't ready to give up. She continued to contemplate on possible business plans, eventually settling on the idea of opening a candy shop.
"We are all crazy about sweets," Celia said.
Celia bought some supplies and asked one of her neighbors to teach her how to make her own chocolates. After some simple training, Celia attempted a few batches of her own. When she was satisfied with the quality of the candies, she was ready to sell them in her store, and she was also ready to name the store. Celia had one in mind, Hepzibah's.
"Hepzibah was the mother of the famous Seven Iron Men, known as the iron-ore pioneers in the Mesabi Iron Range,” Celia said.
She decided to use the name Hepzibah's because of the deeds of Hepzibah J. Merritt. According to the book "Seven Iron Men" by Paul De Kruif, Hepzibah J. Merritt helped to settle the first village in what is now known as West Duluth during the late 1800s. She was also a midwife and nurse to those in the area during her time. Hepzibah J. Merritt's sons also discovered the world's largest iron range, the Mesabi Iron Range.
Celia had a location in mind. She purchased a corner shop in the DeWitt-Seitz Marketplace building, which is where Hepzibah's Sweet Shoppe remains to this day.
Celia had everything ready and in place, and she just had to get everything into the store for the first day of sales. She started moving in the supplies and getting everything setup for the grand opening. Hepzibah's Sweet Shoppe opened on the day before Grandma's Marathon that year.
"The first night was the night before Grandma's Marathon," Celia said. "Taste of Saigon was opening up at the same time."
Celia said that there were lots of people outside banging on the doors to get in, and even though they didn't have everything set up, Hepzibah's Sweet Shoppe opened anyway.
"That first night we sold all of our chocolates and made about 60 bucks, and I thought to myself, this might actually work," Celia said.
It definitely worked. After roughly 25 years of business, Hepzibah's Sweet Shoppe is still going strong. The store has never hurt for business. While they don't make as much of their own chocolates any more because of the hassle, there is one especially buoyant chocolate vessel that they do still create in store, the chocolate oar boats, which was Tina’s parent’s idea.
"They had a mold of the oar boats created in Buffalo, New York about 20 years ago," Tina said. "And we've used it ever since."