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Published Monday, October 26, 2015

A Fairytale Begins Anew at Stowaway Sweets

By Todd Feinburg

“It’s a fairytale,” said Emily DeWitt describing her life as the new owner, with her husband, Don, of Stowaway Sweets in Marblehead. “Living in a chocolate factory, in this historic English cottage. I don’t know anyone in the country who lives like this.”

Emily says that when people come into Stowaway Sweets, they’re often stepping back into time, revisiting a place they loved when they were children. “I’m specifically thinking about one woman who was in recently. She literally got down on her knees in front of the counter and said, ‘I’ve been coming into Stowaway since I was this big!’ It was amazing!”

As she paints that pretty picture of her new life as a small business owner, Emily is interrupted by blaring tinny rock music that sounds like it’s coming from an old transistor radio. “I think that’s my son Christopher’s ring tone,” Emily said laughing as her husband, Don, ran to quell the din. “We use his phone sometimes to play the music for the store.”

This fairytale is different than the ones you read to your kids. It’s set in modern day Marblehead, where the DeWitts, along with their children, Christopher and Vivienne, are less than three months into a family undertaking as the new proprietors of Stowaway.

In fairytales, there’s not a retail store on the ground floor, nor a chocolate factory in the basement, ring tones from the mobile phones of ten-year-olds don’t interrupt idle chatter and the owners of the idyllic cottage don’t work like dogs. “Oh, yes, we work like dogs,” confirmed Emily.

The youngest DeWitts, five-year old Vivienne and 10 year old Christopher, are as proud as their parents to be the new owners of the iconic Stowaway Sweets in Marblehead.

But that’s what makes this sweet family story one worth telling – everything they do is hard work. Running a business that will sell several thousand pounds of chocolate over the holidays is a struggle. Making sure the kids’ needs are met, including driving them to Beverly and back for school, is a struggle. Keeping oneself from eating from each display of chocolate until they all are equal size is probably a struggle, too.

Until eight years ago, the DeWitts lived and worked in New York City – he as both a chef and general manager of high-end restaurants – and she as a marketing professional, also in the hospitality business. They had a baby, lives that were too hectic, and a conviction that grew after September 11 that life in the biggest of American cities was not delivering the right environment for raising a family.

“We always say, ‘the best gift we could have given the kids is to have them growing up here, on the North Shore, in Marblehead,’” Emily explained. The kids are doing great after a couple of months living in Marblehead, the DeWitts say, smiling. Christopher, who is 10, is good with customers, and he’s also prodded his parents to launch a new candy to meet his tastes – a chocolate covered marshmallow ghost. Their daughter, five-year-old Vivienne, who they call “our official taste tester,” is enjoying learning her way around the business.

As they all are.

One wonders about boundaries, though. How do working parents allocate their attentions between family and work when home is upstairs and the business is downstairs? “To have the retail store, to make your own product, to live upstairs?” asked Don. “This is not for everyone.”

“We juggle,” explained Don. “But the good part is, one of us can pick up for the other. It’s a Monday, so I know that Em has to go and she has to pick up the little one early because she has to go to swim practice and then later she’s going to take our son to practice for football. And that gives her a chunk of time to be with the kids and it gives me a chance to really focus on getting my work done.”

People who work in chocolate stores get asked all the time how they keep from eating all the product, surrounded as they are by the aroma, and they all seem to answer, “Oh, you don’t even notice it after a while.”

But Emily grew up in Marblehead and she worked behind the counter at Stowaway as a teen, and it seems she never stopped noticing the smell of chocolate – indeed, it is perhaps the imprint of chocolate on her memory that drew the family back to town, leading eventually to them buying the business when it became available. Because Emily seems as connected to Stowaway as do those customers who continue to come back through the different stages of their lives.

“Just the other day I was looking at my son standing behind the counter in the very spot…” Emily started to say, leaving the rest of the sentence unspoken, hanging in the chocolate-filled air. Perhaps she was stopped by the memory of herself standing in the same spot, linking her formative years to those of her boy, being reminded for a moment how short and special this life is and how precious it is to pass down the sweet parts to our children while protecting them from the bad. And this wholesome place, Stowaway Sweets – this candy store, with its long history and its carefully crafted handmade chocolates – this seems to be a wonderful, fairytale place to do it.

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