Waiting on Wilbur

By on July 27, 2016

Retail store moving across the street; sale of former factory expected soon

Wilbur Chocolate became the talk of the town, again, when it was announced that its retail store and museum would be relocating from the west side of North Broad Street to the former Freeze & Frizz building, directly across the street from its current location. The news also heightened speculation that the sale of the former factory building (pictured above) will be announced soon.

Wilbur Chocolate became the talk of the town, again, when it was announced that its retail store and museum would be relocating from the west side of North Broad Street to the former Freeze & Frizz building, directly across the street from its current location. The news also heightened speculation that the sale of the former factory building (pictured above) will be announced soon.

While nothing’s been announced publicly, it appears a buyer is ready to soon take ownership of the former Wilbur Chocolate manufacturing plant on North Broad Street. Last week, it was announced that the retail candy store and chocolate museum would be moving across the street to the former Freeze & Frizz location.

Cargill Inc., owner of Wilbur, has been tightlipped since the factory stopped operations earlier this year. Corporate representatives in Minnesota have refused to discuss the pending sale, prospective buyers, or what will become of the plant or other parts of the property, including Little League baseball fields and Fourth of July fireworks staging areas. The future of the latter is especially important to the Lititz community since next summer marks the 200th anniversary of Independence Day celebrations in Lititz Springs Park.

Like the original store, the new location will feature historical Wilbur and confectionery industry artifacts, a kitchen where visitors can watch candies being hand made using Wilbur chocolate, and a wide selection of products, including the very popular Wilbur Buds.

“Our new store will carry on the great traditions of our original store but it will also offer our customers easy access and an enhanced and refreshed shopping experience,” said Amy Weik, of Cargill Cocoa & Chocolate.

The Wilbur Chocolate Store will continue to serve customers at its existing location at 48 North Broad Street in Lititz until the move is complete.

“Wilbur has been part of this community for many years and we expect to stay here for many more years in this new location,” said Weik

With the sale of the Cargill building ongoing, “we decided to make the move of the store now to ensure that we remained a central part of Lititz’s downtown shopping district” said Weik.

Sources said the sale was narrowed down to two possible buyers about five weeks ago, and workers there are currently decommissioning the plant, according to public safety officials. Last week’s announcement regarding the retail store was Cargill’s first public statement regarding the property in nearly five months.

Spokesman Pete Stoddart issued a press release July 21 stating Cargill will begin renovations in the coming weeks on a new, long-term location for its Wilbur Chocolate Store in Lititz, at 45 N. Broad St., just across Route 501 from its current location.

The former Freeze & Frizz drive-in will be the new location for the Wilbur Chocolate retail store and museum.

The former Freeze & Frizz drive-in will be the new location for the Wilbur Chocolate retail store and museum.

The move of the retail Wilbur Chocolate Store to the former Freeze & Frizz ice cream drive-in would end Cargill’s business activity at 48 N. Broad St. and pave the way for the new owner to take control of the property.

Despite reports that a sale was imminent, Stoddart has declined to answer questions or provide updates on the progress of the sale.

Cargill Inc., which purchased Wilbur for $51 million in 1992, opened the doors of the historical brick factory building in March for prospective buyers. The international food conglomerate hired the regional office of Los Angeles-based CBRE Inc. to oversee the bidding for the factory, in which chocolate was produced in Lititz for 115 years.

Cargill officials would speak only about its retail Wilbur store, and last week even refused to confirm to an LNP reporter whether the “sprawling complex has drawn any offers.”

“Cargill hopes to open the new store right before the 2016 Lititz Chocolate Walk on Oct. 8,” Stoddart wrote in the press release.

Ron Oettel, Lititz Fire chief, praised Cargill’s communication and cooperation with the borough during the plant’s decommission process that he’s monitoring for public safety concerns.

“(Cargill) has been terrific in letting us know each step they’re doing,” he said. “They’ve let us know well in advance of what’s going on in the plant.”

Oettel said the company last week carefully removed ammonia from the processing chillers. The food industry uses chillers to cool any process such as chocolate manufacturing, vegetable processing, meat massagers-injectors, and confectionery manufacturing.

He also dismissed negative speculation that has been posted on social media recently as to why Kline’s Services Inc. trucks have been regularly spotted inside the plant.

“Kline’s does more than pump and collect from septic systems,” Oettel said. “There’s other things in the plant that need to be removed, like oil and cocoa butter, before you can clean the tanks. Kline’s is also a wastewater management company.”

Several Cargill workers on Monday were outside the plant observing the removal of machinery pieces and other manufacturing items.

A few workers said they’ve been told not to discuss the process, and knew “nothing about the sale anyway.”

However, workers said they’re contracted day-to-day and have no idea when they’ll be out of work.

While Oettel said everything will be removed from the plant — besides the “structure” and the sprinkler, alarm and heating systems — nothing Cargill has done indicates whether the building’s buyers would maintain or eventually demolish the existing buildings, he said.

Local officials believe demolition of the brick portion of the building facing Broad Street is unlikely because of tax breaks associated with the historical segment of the complex.

Cargill on Oct. 29 explained the closure was necessary due to inefficiencies at the plant relative to the company’s more modern and efficient plants. It announced in March that a buyer would be chosen through a bidding process expected to be completed April 15. While the doors were opened in March to potential buyers and their architects, Stoddart said safety concerns precluded Lititz Record Express staff from entering the building. The sale includes a 179,798-square-foot manufacturing building on 3.3 acres of land, and two additional sites of .14 acres at 47 N. Broad St. and 7.69 acres of land to the rear/west of 48 N. Broad St.

The end of production at the plant in February effectively ended the employment of 130 hourly and salaried employees. Another 30 salaried workers in administrative positions were offered jobs at Cargill offices in Minneapolis and Milwaukee.

Wilbur Chocolate continues to be manufactured in Lititz, however, at the company’s plant on West Lincoln Avenue. And now it appears the future of the retail store and museum in Lititz is secure as well.

Patrick Burns is social media editor and a staff writer for the Lititz Record Express. He welcomes your questions and comments and can be reached at pburns.eph@lnpnews.com or at 721-4455.

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