A sweet success story
Oct 31, 2018 08:42AM
● By J. Chambless
McDevitt has worked hard to make sure that North East Chocolates is a part of the larger business community in Cecil County.
Christie McDevitt was 24 when she purchased a small candy business in North East in 2012. And, just like that, she became an entrepreneur. And a chocolatier.
The entrepreneur part, no one would be surprised by. McDevitt is smart, creative, savvy, and personable, and she possesses a boundless energy. When Sandy Turner, the coordinator of Cecil County's Tourism Department, announced McDevitt's selection as the Tourism Person of the Year, she called her a model for young entrepreneurs. Indeed, like a lot of small business owners, McDevitt will wear many hats throughout the day. She makes the chocolates, sure, but she is also a marketer and an event planner. She is the current vice president of the North East Chamber of Commerce and has established a business relationship with numerous other businesses throughout Cecil County. So McDevitt is a born entrepreneur.
The chocolatier part? That's a little more difficult to understand, even for McDevitt herself.
Standing outside her shop in North East on a warm day in early October, McDevitt began to tell the story about how she became the owner of a candy shop and to talk about how the last six years have been one big learning experience.
“I feel like the candy store is growing up with me, and I am growing up with the candy store,” McDevitt explained with a smile.
She did not set out to become a chocolatier. When McDevitt graduated from Bohemia Manor High School in 2005, she thought she might want to become an architect. She enrolled in the engineering program at Cecil College, and in 2008 she completed an Associate of Science in Engineering degree in the field of Computer Aided Design and Drafting (CADD). McDevitt graduated magna cum laude with a degree in Business Administration (Marketing) from Goldey-Beacom College, and then went to work for Union Hospital in Elkton as a liaison for patients in the bariatric surgery program.
Then, in 2012, the owner of a candy shop in North East retired and sold the business to McDevitt. It was an opportunity, she explained, that simply presented itself at a time when she was looking for a new challenge. And, just like that, she was the owner of a candy store and she set out to become a chocolatier.
She traveled up to New England to talk to several experienced chocolatiers to learn about the art of making tasty treats.
“Independent research is a passion,” she explained. “I talked to several different chocolatiers.”
What she quickly learned is that making good chocolate is not easy. But McDevitt is not one to back down from a challenge. She dedicated herself to the work.
North East Chocolates became one of the distinctive businesses in North East’s charming downtown. The store is situated on Main Street, along with Woody’s Crab House, Steak & Main, Tukey Point Vineyard Tasting Room, and a variety of other shops and restaurants that make the town a fun destination.
Initially, the candy shop was located in West Street Village, which houses a collection of small retail shops, but McDevitt relocated the candy store to the tiny, 225 square-foot building at 24 South Main Street.
McDevitt said that the building was originally constructed by the owner of the house behind it to serve as a barbershop.
“My estimate is that it was built in the early 1940s,” she said, explaining that records show that, as late as 1938, only the original house was on the property. The building that North East Chocolates now calls home has had many uses through the years―it was a pretzel store for awhile, and a seafood steaming shack at another point. Just before a candy store, “Where Butterflies Bloom” occupied the space as a gift shop run by Ron Wetzig.
These days, a giant blue M & M hints at the fun that awaits a visitor inside what McDevitt refers to as the “Itsy Bitsy Candy Store.”
McDevitt explained that she wanted the candy store to have a fun, old-fashioned feel that will make generations of people recall the candy stores that they enjoyed so much when they were kids.
“I want to make this a community candy store,” she explained.
The main display case features a wide variety of homemade tasty treats―sea salt caramels, peanut butter cups, and an assortment of pretzels are all among the most popular items with customers, according to Jennifer Heroux, who is McDevitts right-hand woman at the candy shop.
In addition to the confections, there are tins of popcorn and all kinds of old-fashioned candies on sale.
“I love having the broad selection that we do,” McDevitt said, explaining that she has ordered new built-in bookcases that will more efficiently allow for products to be displayed. In this candy shop, every foot of space is precious, but that only adds to the old-fashioned, welcoming feel of the business.
The candy store allows McDevitt to utilize her talents as a marketer and as an event planner. She helps the North East Chamber of Commerce plan most of its events. One example is the popular Unicorn Quest event where over a thousand participants visit different businesses in town on a scavenger hunt for items related to unicorns, including a live Unicorn from Fairwinds Farm & Stables.
McDevitt said that she really enjoys being out and about, connecting with other business owners.
“Offices are tough to sit in,” she said. “I like to move around and be social.”
McDevitt likely picked up a lot of her entrepreneurial spirit from her parents, Kevin and Linda McDevitt, who have owned their own businesses―including The Pickled Herring Pub and Custom Captive Corporation. She also understands the importance of collaboration. North East Chocolates helps promote other businesses in Cecil County in a variety of ways. One is by partnering with wineries like Chateau Bu-De Vineyard & Winery, the Turkey Point Vineyard and Dove Valley Vineyard on chocolate and wine pairings. McDevitt's chocolates and fudge are available at Milburn Orchards, too. Her boxed chocolates are sold at The Old Gray Mare Gift Shoppe in Chesapeake City and The Palette & The Page art gallery.
With all those collaborations and partnerships, and all the hard work she puts in supporting not just North East, but Cecil County, it's no surprise that North East Chocolates has already been inducted into the Cecil County Business Hall of Fame.
McDevitt has formed so many partnerships and has immersed herself so deeply in the business community, that North East Chocolates has a difficult time keeping up with demand.
“We’ve gotten so busy that we really have to increase ordering and production,” McDevitt explained.
She is thankful for her education and how it helped her in the efforts to build the candy store into a successful business.
Everything she learned at Cecil College and Goldey-Beacom College—the architecture, the marketing, the business classes― has been useful.
“All of the diverse background experience and education has come in handy in the most unlikely ways,” she explained.
McDevitt said that it takes a lot of drive and determination to overcome the inevitable adversity that comes with owning your own business, but if a person is willing to work hard and think outside of the box, they can make it.
“There is something to be said for investing in the community that helped bring you up,” McDevitt explained. “There is a lot of opportunity in Cecil County, and I don’t think we have reached our potential yet. Anyone who is willing to do the due diligence, anyone who is willing to work hard and put their heart into the business can succeed here.”