Eating local doesn't get sweeter than a visit to Hammond's Candies, Denver's 94-year-old candy factory, now immortalized in a History Press book, "Hammond's Candies: History Handmade in Denver."
Hammond's Candies opened in 1920, at a time when candy making was a popular but over-saturated industry. "It was a business that many entered, and they found, to their chagrin, that the rate of failure verged on the astronomical," author Mary Treacy Thompson writes, adding that from 1926 to 1939, the number of confectionery and ice-cream manufactures in Colorado went from 72 to eighteen.
But Hammond's founder, Carl Hammond, Sr., used other businesses' failures to his advantage: he rarely purchased a new piece of equipment, instead buying pieces from liquidating companies. Moves like this, along with his refusal to use debt to grow the business, helped Hammond's live on through numerous economic downturns, until it was sold to another family in 2007.
Thompson (who goes by "Corky") said she wanted to write about Hammond's because of her own memories of visiting there with her grandchildren. Thompson grew up in New York, but moved to Colorado in 2003. She's dabbled in writing her entire life, but with with her family grown up, she wanted to broaden her scope. She's written two books: a soon-to-be-released biography called Rainbows in Puddles about a man who overcame an abusive childhood, and a children's book called Moving Van Christmas, which she self-published on Amazon. When a friend told her about the History Press, which publishes historical stories from around the country, she called and asked what they needed. When the publisher mentioned Hammond's Candies, Thompson was sold.
She spent months meeting with all of the members of the Hammond family she could round up; Thompson suspected some didn't wish to speak with her because they weren't involved in the business or thought she was using the company to make money, which she laughed about, mentioning that the book's production was definitely more of a labor of love, considering the royalties she'll likely receive.
Continue reading for more on the Hammond's Candies family.
Two family members she spoke to were two of Carl Sr.'s grandsons: Carl Hammond III, who lives in San Diego, and George Hammond, who still lives in Denver. The book includes charming stories the brothers told her, which have been passed down and shared over generations, like one from Carl Sr.'s stint in World War I. When he was in France, Carl paid for a pair of boots he was to pick up later, only to find there were no boots when he arrived; he had been tricked. As he walked away in misery, he tripped over a pair of boots that just happened to be his size in a muddy puddle.
"If you don't have stories about the people, I don't think you have a book," Thompson says, speaking to the books more tangential anecdotes.
Some of the Hammond's stories -- both the business and personal ones -- are too inspiring and positive to believe they weren't sugarcoated (pun intended). But Thompson said she was true to the family: "I think they were an astonishingly true-blue kind of a family... they were a very loyal, spiritual family."
Reading the book is like reading a piece of an old American dream and a peek into a life we don't see now, like this gem Thompson added when referring to Carl's factory and retail store location:
[He] established his first candy factory where there would be plenty of foot traffic and access to a buying public... Across the street, a grocery store and a saloon promised additional patrons, possibly those over-imbibing husbands who might assuage their wives with a guilt offering of a bag of sweets."
The book later dives into current-day Hammond's company, now owned by Andrew Schuman, who acquired the business in 2007. Members of the Hammond family still work there, like Emery Dorsey, the husband of Carl Sr.'s granddaughter Robin. Thompson said even beyond the ownership, the company is a family business because of its employees.
"It's not only a family business in the sense that the Hammond family ran the company, but it's a family in the sense of the people who work here. They've been here a long time and they have created loyalty," she says. "And from a corporate point of view, frequently when businesses change hands, heads roll, people leave, and that has not been true here."
In the book, Hammond's story is placed in historical context. Thompson mentions, for example, Denver's progress in the late 1800s and 1900s as it started the zoo and opened the nature and science museum, the city's status as the "candy center of the entire west" in 1923, and how Hammond's reacted to the depression. She even mentions that Milton Hershey of the Hershey Chocolate Factory learned some of his candy-making trade in Denver.
The book includes color and black and white photographs depicting the Hammond family and today's factory.
Today, Hammond's, is located in an industrial stretch of Washington Street near the intersection of I-25 and I-76, includes the factory, the tour entry and the candy shop. Expectedly, the tour waiting room is sweet with the smell of candy -- there's no doubt what's made there. Anyone can take a tour, which run every half hour Monday through Saturday, but Thompson's book really delivers a motivating and in-depth picture of the business and the family that it would be a good supplement to the tour.
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The book is available at Hammond's Candies Store, BookBar, Tattered Cover and local Barnes & Noble stores, where Thompson will have signings next month: December 9 at Tattered Cover on Colfax, December 13 at Barnes & Noble in Lone Tree, and December 20 at BookBar, on Tennyson Avenue in Berkeley.