COLOMA — After 20 years of living her dream, Tina Buck says she is taking a hiatus.
As owner of The Chocolate Garden in Coloma, Buck revealed this week she plans to close the store to reconfigure the shop in an attempt to make her business less time-consuming and run more smoothly.
The store’s last day – for now – will be Oct. 1.
“I like to phrase it as a hiatus,” she said in a phone interview Thursday. “I’m really hoping we can come back at some point. This is my baby. My dream. I’m not at the point to give up on it.”
The reason Buck is hesitant to refer to this break as anything other than a hiatus is due to the staffing constraints The Chocolate Garden has seen the past few years.
According to Buck, her business requires 12 to 15 dedicated people. However, they’ve since been running the shop with three full-time and five part-time employees.
She said the effect has been two-fold. They’ve seen the normal turnover with the school year returning. However, with unemployment rates at a 20-year low, she said it’s gotten harder to find replacements.
“It really does require that many people to keep this business moving,” Buck said. “We sell a handmade product. We don’t rely on machines or factory setup. Because of that, our product has an expiration date and can’t be made far out ahead of time. It requires a lot of labor and effort.”
Buck said she began contemplating shutting down in April after the shop lost two managers – within 24 hours of one another.
Before making any decisions, Buck said she wanted to at least stay open through Sept. 1, which marked the store’s 20-year anniversary.
In a Facebook post that went live Wednesday, Buck referred to the decision as a form of “rest and reinvention.” She said there is no set timeline on when the shop will reopen.
Being open more than 12 hours a day at seven days a week every year has been quite the chore for Buck and her staff. Buck said she hasn’t had a vacation in 15 years.
“When you’re literally dog paddling to stay above water, you can’t think about the yacht your going to build,” she said. “I want to take some time for myself, too.”
A surreal response
What’s made the hiatus more special – or painful, depending on your point of view – has been the outpouring support from those near and far from the chocolate shop.
The support has included previous employees coming in to help run the shop during its last two weeks. Such help has included the husband of a longtime employee, who has pitched in to volunteer.
“I’m literally overwhelmed by the impact we’ve had on people,” Buck said. “The amount of kindness and sadness has been gratifying. You hope you’ve created a little bit of joy for people. You hope that you’ll be missed.”
Buck said if the chocolate shop does reopen, she doesn’t know in what form that could be.
She said she is considering everything, which includes reducing the hours of operations to reducing the amount of shipping.
Due to the overwhelming demands the website received upon Buck’s decision, she chose to limit what could be ordered. By her recollection, it took a few hours after the announcement before they had double the amount of orders she felt her staff could handle.
While she would prefer to be downstairs on the last day, reveling in her customers “goodbyes” and “see you soons,” Buck admits she’ll likely be bombarded with boxing up the last of the shipping orders in another room.
When she first opened in 1998, Buck was not timid on her plans for the shop. She said she was certain it would grow. Both then and now, Buck said she wanted everything to remain handmade – just with a lot more hands.
“I’m trying to do this as gracefully and mindfully for all parties involved,” she said. “I anticipate a lot of tears will be shed. This has literally been a dream come true for me. I hope we do come back, but if not, 20 years is a good run to live your dream.”
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