Barbara Crowley had a clearly defined set of footprints to follow in her quest to become a business owner.
She often visited Old Lyme as a child and always made a point to stop by The Chocolate Shell, an old fashioned candy shop on Lyme Street. When she moved there permanently 18 years ago, Crowley brought her daughters to the shop often. When they got older, they were allowed to go on their own.
"It's sort of a rite of passage," she explains. "When you reach The Center School, the big thing is that fifth-graders are allowed to walk down here by themselves."
On one visit in February, Crowley struck up a conversation with the owner, who had been looking for someone to take over the business for two years. After 22 years, the woman wanted to retire and spend time with her husband. She was willing to sell the confectionery institution, but only when the right person came along.
"I asked what she would do if she didn't sell and she said she would close. I thought, 'She can't do that.' So I called my husband and said 'Guess what I'm going to do?'
"I didn't think of the economy because I figured she had been here for so long," says Crowley. "My husband said I was crazy to be doing this now, but I have people who came here as kids come back with their children."
What Crowley credits as helping her continue The Chocolate Shell's success is the on-the-job training required by the former owner.
"She wanted the new person to work with her to learn the ropes. I came in in February and a week later we had an agreement," she explains. "Her tutelage made a huge difference because I gained first-hand knowledge of what was going on. She was very open with her financial records.
"It was a great help," she adds, "but after that I also knew what I wanted to change."
Crowley worked alongside the former owner through March and April and they finalized their deal on June 1. She reopened under her own name on June 6.
Those five days in early summer were spent sprucing up the 450-square-foot shop. Walls are now covered in hot pink and yellow and adorned with mirrors. The carpet was removed, shelves were built to store greeting cards, and chandeliers hang from the ceiling. Glass jars line the top of two glass display cases. The room is kept at a chilly 66 to 68 degrees to keep the candies, which are not refrigerated, at just the right temperature.
The former bookkeeper learned quickly that people are "very particular" about their chocolate. She has jumbo peanut butter cups, butter crunch and butter almond toffees and turtles, along with milk and dark chocolate coconut clusters.
But a large part of the appeal is the typical "kids candy" that keeps generations of families visiting the shop — lollipops, gum drops and fruit chews. She's also brought back several nostalgic candies, such as Pop Rocks, Bit-O-Honey, Whirly Pops and Mary Jane.
The best part of running the shop is the social interaction, says Crowley.
"I love having people around. I'm a talker," she says. "It doesn't get old, not yet. I love coming in and getting that scent. Every day I meet at least one person who has been coming here their whole life."