Despite the pandemic, The Sweet Tooth expands its taste of chocolate and nostalgia
For Crystal Priebe, owning a candy store was a dream come true. For several years, she had been making hand-dipped chocolates and selling them at Valley Fish and Cheese, her family’s store in Prairie du Chien. Then in December 2019, at the height of Christmas shopping, Crystal opened her own store, The Sweet Tooth, as a three-month pop-up shop on Blackhawk Avenue. Residents welcomed the confectionery along Prairie du Chien’s downtown, and business was good. Then the pandemic hit. Lockdowns were ordered, and The Sweet Tooth closed—just after Crystal and her husband, Brian Priebe, had signed a longer-term lease.
A sweet opportunity to expand with support from WEDC
The Sweet Tooth reopened in May 2020, just in time for Mother’s Day. But months later, a new opportunity arose: The Priebes had a chance to buy a much bigger building across the street, at 114 W. Blackhawk Ave. To nurture and grow their fledging business during the pandemic, they took advantage of resource opportunities available through Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC). The $10,000 Main Street Bounceback grant, $2,500 Wisconsin Tomorrow Business Recovery grant and $1,500 Downtown Pitch Contest for unique business ideas supported an extensive remodel in the new location, which opened in November 2021 on Small Business Saturday. The Priebes credit the Prairie du Chien Main Street program and Driftless Development Inc. with keeping local businesses aware of the statewide options WEDC offers.
And there’s another, intangible factor in their favor: “People are depending on chocolate to get through the pandemic,” Crystal said.
“People are depending on chocolate to get through the pandemic.”
Bringing more treats, old and new, to their Wisconsin town
In addition to hand-dipped chocolates, the store now has a full room devoted to nostalgic sweets, such as salt water taffy and cotton candy. It also carries Jelly Belly® Jelly Beans in bulk volume, unusual soda pop flavors and other treats. “We try to have things that you can’t find in the area,” Crystal said.
A former certified nursing assistant, Crystal swirls cherries, caramels and creams in chocolate, using a technique her mother taught her years ago. Brian quit his factory job in 2020 and makes peanut and cashew brittle and English toffee from his grandmother’s recipes. Their commercial kitchen sits in the back of the new building; the Priebes no longer have to hustle to a separate location to prepare their sweets.
As a cherry on top of their expansion plans, the Priebes stumbled upon the glass-fronted candy counter from Hamann’s Variety Store, a longtime Prairie du Chien retail establishment that closed in 2009. The horseshoe-shaped, wooden display case was housed in a local antique dealer’s shop. Crystal was elated to find it, calling up memories of her childhood. “I’d save my pennies all week to buy Tootsie Rolls,” she said. “It’s near and dear to my heart to have that piece of history.”
The Priebes are hoping to expand their offerings at The Sweet Tooth with interactive games and puzzles, and eventually, candy-making classes.