Kris Patrick, Staff Writer
Piper's Candy becomes prime tourist attraction
What is striped, lined in tin, a sweet treat, and one of the largest bust tour destinations in Lucas County? Of course, it's Piper's Candy and Grocery Store. Pipers is one of the longest established businesses in Chariton. Actually, Piper Brothers Grocery opened in Chariton in 1903, just to the northwest of the town square.
Jill Kerns, current owner of Piper's enticed Rotarians to hold their meeting February 7th with the lure of chocolate. Kerns is a graduate of Chariton High School and the University of Iowa with a Political Science degree After graduation Kerns lived in Alaska for several years where she was a reporter for a national public radio station. Kerns moved to Iowa in 1998 and purchased the Piper's store in 1999.
As residents of Chariton, it is easy to take for granted the great ambiance and delicious candies found behind the original door at the "local grocery." The story behind the sweets and successful business strategies kept Rotarians focused on a special part of Chariton's history. Of course the distinct Piper's Easter Eggs and turtles displayed on the table didn't go unnoticed.
Anyone who has worked in a family business understand the dynamics behind Joe L. Piper's desire to strike out on his own in 1905 and purchase the current building, which was built in 1888. Joe L, bought the building from Mr. Stanley, who also owned a foundry. Stanley gave Joe a little brass pig that still lives at Piper's. Joe L. and his family expanded the business to include a bakery and slaughterhouse.
Farmers traded their wares for groceries, bread was shipped by train to the surrounding smaller towns, goods were hauled out to the then-thriving mining towns, and groceries were delivered several times a day to area homes. Joe had the first delivery truck in the area and bread was delivered daily to Derby, Lucas and Williamson.
Joe L. left his business to two of his six sons. Bob, took over the store after his brother's death. He continued to offer the top quality products and excellent customer service. In 1947 he and his wife Ruth added top quality homemade candy. Bob learned his candy making skills from his brother John, who owned Piper's Candy in Iowa City. Kerns continues to use the same recipes and techniques.
The 70's, 80's and 90's were hard on corner grocery stores.
Ruth Piper passed away in 1978. Kern's mother Anne worked for Bob, who developed his own candy recipes.
Bob was adamant they were his own recipes, but Anne did learn his secrets. Anne and her husband purchased the store in 1987 when Bob passed away.
Anne brought in more gift items, but kept home deliveries, the same staff and the same products. Kerns credits her mother for identifying what is so special about Piper's. They kept the tin ceilings and original floors, added antiques and cultivated what it already was. Anne started the tourism aspect with bus tours. More and more people out of Des Moines and surrounding areas out on a day trip stop in the store commenting on how beautiful the area is with rolling hills and historic buildings.
Kerns purchased the store in 1999 from her parents. Anne is still an active part of the store.
The volume of candy has increased over the years and it has now made its way to every continent. They still make the candy in small batches, work the chocolates by hand, and take pride in every piece made. No preservatives are used and candy can only be made so far ahead.