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Old Lyme - The Chocolate Shell, a Lyme Street sweets shop for more than three decades, has expanded its operations to include desserts and coffee at a newly renovated section in the back of the store.
Owner Barbara Crowley, who has owned the chocolate shop for the past two years, said she had been mulling over bringing a new element to her business for the past few months. In July, she took the plunge, clearing out an office and storeroom to make room for an espresso machine and dessert display cases as well as a counter with a half dozen or so stools.
Outside, an attractive patio has been set up with umbrella-protected tables and chairs.
"We just wanted it to be a comfortable place where people can come in and enjoy," Crowley said. "I'm going for the comfortable small-town place to visit."
With newly painted yellow-and-raspberry walls, black-and-white cafe prints and shiny flooring, the tiny space has been transformed into a cheerful nook open for the breakfast and lunch crowd starting at 7 a.m. That's a big change for Crowley, who previously didn't open her doors until 11.
"I just thought it was a natural progression," she said. "To me, it almost was a no-brainer."
Crowley is hoping to add a new dimension to a business that goes into hibernation at the same time that thousands of summer people stream into town.
The end of August to Mother's Day tends to be The Chocolate Shell's busiest time of the year, while the dog days of summer send sweet seekers scurrying to local ice cream outlets.
"I branched out trying to get some of the beach people," Crowley said.
The 450-square-foot Chocolate Shell dates to 1980 when Katherine Pratt of Old Lyme opened the shop. Over the years, it has been a favorite stopover for children heading home from the town's nearby middle school.
For 22 years, the shop was run by Geraldine Brundage, who retired and sold it to Crowley in 2011.
"It really is a staple around here," Crowley said.
Brundage rarely advertised, but Crowley came out with radio and newspaper ads during her first year that got the word out beyond Old Lyme. An employee, Danielle Witt of Stonington, also has been maintaining a Facebook page to promote the business.
Crowley now counts her market as including Norwich, Ledyard, Old Saybrook and even Stonington, a roughly 20-mile radius.
Reflecting her market area, The Chocolate Shell's expanded offerings include fresh pastry from Zest, a company located in Stonington's Velvet Mill, and Dagmar's Desserts, which offers Bavarian and Austrian specialties on Main Street in Old Saybrook.
"I think it's going to fill a niche," Crowley said.
Crowley said she expects to rotate dessert offerings and is always willing to take requests. She expects the opening of students housing near the Lyme Academy College of Fine Arts this year will bring a steady flow of customers through her doors.
The store will feature iced tea and coffee, chai, lemonade and espresso along with other beverages expected to segue into hotter items during the winter. Each cup of coffee will be made fresh.
Scones, croissants, biscotti, coffee cake, cinnamon twists, strudel, truffels, pedafores and cupcakes also will be regular offerings.
"I want it to be a very unique, personalized experience," Crowley said.
Name: The Chocolate Shell
Owner: Barbara Crowley
Years in business: 33
Address: 18 Lyme St., Old Lyme