Sunday, March 05, 2000

The Chocolate Vault

The Chocolate Vault
The Ann Arbor News
By Pamela Appea

A Tecumseh institution, The Chocolate Vault offers patrons a chance to savor home-made raspberry cremes, amaretto truffles and double dipped brownies.

And that's just the beginning. Since husband-wife team Jim and Barb McCann opened the Chocolate Vault in 1985, the shop's popularity has drawn customers coming everywhere from Toledo to Windsor. Locals, who are regulars, also support the store, Barb McCann said.

Large corporations commission Chocolate Vault staffers to make end-of-the-year chocolate gifts. Kids in Harry Potter book clubs request custom-made chocolate frogs for the group. The shop's name was inspired by several community banks that the building housed in the 19th century and early 20th century.

And the 110-116 W. Chicago Blvd. address has seen a number of other shops and businesses open and fold in its 150-year history, Barb McCann said. Doctors treated patients in the building, insurance companies did business, and postal clerks sold stamps.

The McCanns also previously operated cake decorating, candy shop and bridal-service businesses from the 1970s to the early 1980s at the same address. But the couple decided to convert to an all-chocolate business by the '80s to simplify everyday operations.

Focusing on selling chocolate and ice cream was the natural next step for them, said Barb McCann.It's the kind of store that makes Tecumseh a destination, said Cindy R. Helinksi, economic development director of the city.

The store gets visited by regulars who must have their weekly truffles or turtles or a pound of mixed chocolates for their relative, said Jim McCann. And the staff are glad to oblige with the requests they get for unusual or specialized chocolate molds orders.

The McCanns have filled orders for 500 chocolate train engines, 1,000 post office boxes, 500 boxes of chocolate with chocolates inside (with the company logo on top of the box) Even a chocolate brain. The Chocolate Vault will do it all.

Despite the old-fashioned community feel to the store, most of the Chocolate Vault's business flows from the Internet, said Barb McCann. Since the Chocolate Vault went on line in September 1998, the majority of the Chocolate Vault's customers haven't even met the McCanns or sipped on a coffee or ice cream shake in the old-fashioned seating room there.

"Fifty-five percent of the candy business is from the Internet," Jim McCann said.

According to Jim McCann, the Chocolate Vault's candy sales total in 1999 was up by 13.1 percent as compared with the previous year. Breaking the numbers down, local sales in 1999 went up by .25 percent, while Web sales went up by 42.5 percent.

Most days are long, said Barb McCann, who routinely works 14 hours a day, 7 days a week. With a few staffers on board at the shop, Barb McCann works a full day on the Web and Jim McCann juggles orders for special occasions like Valentine's Day, working the counter and acting as the technical support."We like what we do" Jim McCann said.

By Pamela J. Appea - News Staff Reporter
March 5, 2000