Galena, Ill. is a timeless tourist destination in the heart of Northwestern Illinois’ few hills. Pre-Civil War architecture lines the main road and side streets in town while almost all of the shops keep an interior blend of antiquated wood and contemporary style.
The fusion of old and new is common to the area surrounding this portion of the Illinois-Iowa border. True to this tradition, Galena has a variety of red-bricked candy shops which sell a variety of sweets and treats.
Galena’s Kandy Kitchen, one of the older candy shops in the area, was founded in 1974 by second-generation confectioner George W. Paxton. His vision included hand-dipped and homemade candies made in the store. Paxton learned the secrets of the confectionery trade from his father, William Paxton, the inventor of the “Chuckles” candy. The elder Paxton’s candy formulas are still used today to create some of the sweets sold at the Kandy Kitchen.
Melissa Ettleman, manager of Galena’s Kandy Kitchen, helps run the shop and whip up some of its signature homemade treats. Trained by George Paxton himself, she knows how to create edibles in the vein of homemade delectability.
“All of the chocolate, brittles, crèmes and fresh caramels are things we do in here,” explains Ettleman. “I make a lot of the ingredients from scratch. Our vision is making small batches of candy, so every piece of candy is all hand-processed.”
From the outside, the store looks similar to many of the other shops in town. The front is a rusty orange brick mingling with an awning that bears the store’s name in white. The glass windows display some of the colorful candies in bright, patterned arrangements.
Within the shop, rows of wooden barrels and glass jars entice tourists with a hodgepodge of toffees, jelly beans, gummy worms, licorice sticks, chocolates and chocolate-dipped candies. The wooden floor reflects only enough light to brighten the dark hues of wood on the floor and along the walls, giving the shop a warm, open feel. The glow of overhead lights reflects off the sugar, though, and the interior of the shop stands out as much as the sweets do.
Like any kid in a candy shop, one might find it difficult not to pace between rows of the candy without feeling some nostalgic excitement. Seeing the batches of candies being prepared or set out, fresh and ready to eat, could be enough to tickle any sweet-toothed traveler’s fancy.
Further down Main Street from the Kandy Kitchen is Chocolat, a candy shop showcasing and selling imported European chocolates. The shop places great emphasis on maintaining a European atmosphere, just as it does on maintaining the gourmet quality of the chocolates.
Walking into Chocolat is like walking into a different land entirely. The shops welcomes sunlight from a large open window at the front, which is reflected by the black floor tiles on white walls to give the shop a soft glow. Many of the art pieces within the shop are European-themed works, including small Eiffel tower statuettes and photos of European cultural life. Ornate pieces of furniture within the shop provide functional ways of sprucing up the atmosphere, and calligraphic writing emphasizes the elegant theme of the shop, complementing the high quality of the chocolates.
Upon entering the shop, however, one might not immediately notice these details. A single large case takes up a majority of the shop, grabbing visitor attention. The case is a temperature-controlled environment keeping the chocolates at their ideal state, preserving their flavor and artisanal shape. The chocolates are lined up in a neat order, labeled, priced and ready to go, finding their final place far from their origin.
Chocolat employee Chad Griffiths remarks on the immense variety the shop offers.
“We carry a lot of Swiss, German, Belgian and French chocolates,” he says. “There’s a large selection of chocolates from chocolatiers in that area. We carry a decadent assortment of chocolates from those chocolatiers, but we also carry a few American varieties as well.”
Lisa Steinle, manager of Chocolat, understands the dedication to detail it takes to put Galena travelers into a shop that feels felt so far away from home.
“We play a lot of French and German music,” he says. “The owner wanted it to feel like you were walking in the door and walking into a little European boutique. You couldn’t find a bigger selection of imported chocolates unless you booked a ticket!”
While Galena has plenty of history, restaurants and stores to offer travelers, the candy shops are designed to serve the customer on a personal basis. They accomplish this with hearty welcomes and ensuring the customers find the right treats. In a town that is so busy with the tourist industry, that ideal of customer service makes them some of the sweetest shops in the heart of the hills.