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WIDMAN'S CANDY SHOP: 100 years old and still chipper

George Widman shares a laugh with Dr. Bill Erickson Wednesday morning at Widmans Candy in downtown Crookston. Widmans is celebrating its 100th anniversary. Herald photo by Eric Hylden.1 / 2
George Widman displays the signature product, "Chippers," and turtles both handmade in their Crookston store. Herald photo by Eric Hylden.2 / 2

CROOKSTON -- Jay Wise first came to Widman's Candy Shop as an 8-year-old, waiting for the daily newspapers he delivered to come off the press two doors down on South Broadway.

A few minutes after the store's 7 a.m. opening recently, the 70-year-old Wise came through the door for what he calls his "usual breakfast" -- a can of Coke, a bag of potato chips and sports talk.

"I've been pretty much a daily regular all these years," the retiree said. "The only time I wasn't here all the time was when I was in the service."

Such is the 100-year relationship between the original Widman's, its treats and this city's residents. The candy store is marking 100 years.

Long line of Georges

The owners are George F. and wife/chipper-making-pro Lois Widman. George F. Widman is not to be confused with George H. Widman, his grandfather, who opened the store here in 1911. Nor is George F. Widman to be confused with George W. Widman, his father and owner of the Widman's in Grand Forks.

Nor is George F. Widman to be confused with George M. Widman, his son, and George P. Widman, his grandson.

A fourth candy-making George Widman is not likely. At least George III recommends otherwise for his children and grandchildren.

"I'd be against it," he said. "They'd be better off with a different lifestyle rather than work, work, work. I don't think I've had a three-day vacation in my 34 years here."

After 10 years as a schoolteacher in Baudette, Minn., Widman took over in 1979 from his Aunt Margaret, his father's sister. He is closing in on 65 with an ever-growing interest in golf, so retirement may not be far off, clouding the iconic store's future.

The shop closes two days a year -- Christmas Day and Memorial Day. The other 50 weeks, it's open for 62 hours. Work hours grow longer for the Christmas rush on chippers, the cash cow of chocolate-coated potato chips that was his father's invention in the early 1980s. New customers for chippers need to order before the first snow falls.

"That's our signature product," he said. "We probably could make a go of it with just the potato chips."

A nostalgic feel

Moving away from retail, however, would mean the end of the sports give-and-take between proprietor and his regulars such as Wise and Bill Hulst, routinely his day's first customer. Widman's passion for Chicago professional teams and the Fighting Sioux is fodder for the local fans of Minnesota pro teams and the Gophers.

"It's a good place to hang out," said Wise, the customer with the breakfast order short on nutrition.

The hangout has a nostalgic feel. The ceilings and walls are made of tin. The glass display cases for the candy have been in place since 1919. The soda fountain is no longer functional, but it contributes to the ambiance. The cash register is so old the largest amount printed on the keys is $5.

"If it works, we don't change it," Widman said. "Nothing much has really changed around here except getting a couple of machines that melt chocolate."

Curbside service

At 8:21, the telephone rings twice, then stops. It's not a lost call, but rather a signal that former Crookston Mayor Don Osborne is done with morning coffee and will soon arrive to buy a morning newspaper.

Four minutes later, on schedule, he pulls up in his car. Widman delivers the paper to the curb for the latest of 100 years of sweet transactions.

Reach Bakken at (701) 780-1125; (800) 477-6572, ext. 125; or send email to rbakken@gfherald.com.