SBA Loan and Counseling Sweeten 86-Year-Old Bedford Candies Growth
BEDFORD, PA – Tammy Wiley never tasted high-quality sweets until she began working part-time at Bedford Candies. Today, she owns the 86-year-old shop where she now makes delectable delights for the area’s residents and tourists.
“Back then, I didn’t even know what toffee was,” explained Wiley. “But after working with [former] owner Steve Sotirokos, I slowly learned the art of making hand-dipped candies.”
When Sotirokos retired as the town’s candy man, Wiley, with the help of the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) and the Saint Francis University Small Business Development Center (SBDC), molded a business plan ensuring residents and tourists could continue satisfying their sweet tooth.
Wiley isn’t the area’s only chocaholic. Each day, about 100 customers visit the store where copper kettles and stoves melt blocks of chocolate into unique confectionary creations like chocolate-marshmallow peeps, white-chocolate deviled eggs and chocolate figurines designed to celebrate every occasion.
Wiley utilized the SBA for both counseling and capital, securing a 7(a) loan with the help of her godparents and First National Bank to purchase the name, equipment, recipes and website. “I took the First Step Class at Saint Francis University SBDC and met regularly with Jeff Boldizar at the SBDC and at the shop,” she added. “I then worked with the Southern Alleghenies Planning Commission to move the store to Bedford’s historic downtown shopping district.”
The 7(a) loan program is the agency’s most-used business loan program because of its flexibility in loan structure, variety of loan uses and availability. Last year, in the SBA Pittsburgh District Office 27-county footprint, 539 loans totaling more than $125 million were pumped into the Western Pennsylvania economy.
Wiley took over an old pharmacy; originally sharing space with a tea shop but now occupies the entire store. Utilizing a grant, she revamped the interior that sports a Neapolitan theme of brown, cream and strawberry colors.
But, it was her son’s high-school project that would pop Bedford Candies into double-digit growth.
“For his high-school senior-business project, my son wanted to add gourmet popcorn to our store; I said ‘sure’ and he did the necessary research,” Wiley explained. “Not only did he get the best grade in his class but business increased 50 percent with popcorn accounting for one-third of our sales.”
Bedford Candies offers 18 popcorn flavors each day ranging from salty and savory to Thin Mint, Old Bay and, of course, chocolate-drizzled corn.
According to Wiley, overall sales have increased 20-30 percent each year. “Our busy season is from Fall Foliage until Easter and during the summer when visitors at the Bedford Springs Resort stop and shop.”
In the past five years, Wiley has gone from a proprietress with two employees to managing a team of 10 – offering flexible schedules to accommodate families. “I’m a single mom and no one should fear losing their job if they or a family member is sick,” she said.
Wiley hopes to grow Bedford Candies into a household name via popcorn fundraising sales coupled with increased product awareness.
“This is a business I can build,” she added. “I want to distribute to local bed and breakfasts, hotels and theaters. In fact, we shipped chocolates to a hair salon in Pittsburgh as treats for their customers.”
SBA Pittsburgh District Director Kelly Hunt said she’s pleased her agency was able to save the venerable business. “Not only will Bedford residents be able to purchase the candy they’ve loved for decades, but, a whole new generation will be able to taste and savor hand-dipped chocolates,” she said. “Each day, our network of SBDCs and lenders are working together providing counseling and capital access allowing individuals, like Tammy Wiley, to live the American dream of small business ownership.”
“Today’s SBA: Smart, Bold, Accessible”