Driving through downtown Jeffersonville, Ind., on an unusually busy Friday morning is like entering a world caught wonderfully between the 1950s and modern life. It’s a tiny mecca of breweries, restaurants and retail shops. People are walking cheerfully along the sidewalks, chatting with friends and carrying purchases. Shop owners greet each other with a wave. Many of the buildings date from the mid to late 1800s. One of these historic buildings continues to draw crowds, young and old, for a bit of nostalgia and a way to satisfy a sweet tooth—much in the way it has for its 125 years in business.
Walking into Schimpff’s Confectionary (347 Spring Street), one is transported to a different era. The Italianate structure is almost exactly as it was when it opened in 1891 save the addition of paint and signage. Markings on the front of the building show the height of the water during the 1937 Great Flood.
Inside, the candy counter is filled with treats from chocolates; caramels, to the signature confection—Cinnamon Red Hots. These are nothing like the tiny Ferrara Pan Red Hots many ate as children. These are larger, made by human hand and not by automation.
Just past the candy are a soda fountain and a small restaurant area that serve, what Jill Wagner Schimpff calls, “comfort food.” Jill Schimpff is co-owner with husband Warren Schimpff, the heir to the Schimpff name. The walls are covered in pictures—some of famous customers—and old documents, including the first lease. There are booths in the restaurant area and tables with sweetheart chairs. All of these elements add to the feeling that Schimpff’s is special—it is—a renowned jewel of the community.
All in the Family
Despite growing up in Illinois, Warren spent a lot of time in Jeffersonville helping the family at the store as a young man and after marrying Jill.
“I grew up in Chicago. When I was dating Jill, we came down here a number of times; and after we got married, we’d come down and help the family at Christmastime.”
Before he and Jill purchased the store in 1990, Warren’s Aunt Catherine and her brother, Wig, ran it. When Wig passed away, Catherine and her nephew, Sonny (Wig’s son) kept the store operating for another four decades. Upon Catherine’s death, someone needed to step in and take over.
“The deterioration of downtown didn’t help, but the candy business kept going. Jill and I were the only relatives with the wherewithal to purchase the business. So we bought the business to keep in the family,” he says.
During the 1980s, downtown Jeffersonville became a ghost town. Businesses left to the suburbs. Only a few shopkeepers and restaurants tried to stay and survive.
“Downtown, in the eighties, was almost totally occupied by banks,” says Warren. “There were a couple of secondhand stores. There was a restaurant or so. Urban renewal just ruined downtown.”
He continues, “There was potential here, and we had the attitude that if we build it, they will come.” Though he and Jill lived in California, they managed to keep the business running for 10 years from afar. He worked as a research chemist and Jill, with a Master’s in Education, authored several children’s books.
Schimpff’s was one of the few businesses that made it through this desolate period of Jeffersonville’s history. With the upgrade of the Big Four Bridge into a walking path, connecting Jeffersonville to downtown Louisville, renewed interest in the area took hold, as did opportunities to feed hungry walkers. This brought life back to downtown Jeffersonville.
Schimpff’s is no secret in the community and beyond. With the help of various articles and unique media opportunities, including being a part of the Modern Marvels “Candy” documentary produced by the History Channel, their reputation is far reaching. They’ve supplied treats to famous clientele from actors, Henry Winkler (The Fonz) and Sarah Jessica Parker to numerous governors and dignitaries, including a former U.S. President.
“President Bush was in the area staying at a bed and breakfast for an afternoon of rest. The owner was a friend and called to ask if we could put together a box of red white and blue candy. We included a big red, white, and blue lollipop,” shares Warren pointing to a picture of George W. Bush and Laura Bush holding the large candy.
Warren and Jill Schimpff have done much for the business. Besides guiding it through the economic struggles of the last twenty-six years, they have expanded the shop into a museum that houses more than 3,000 pieces of candy memorabilia and equipment. On the museum side, there is a demonstration window where guests and passersby can see chocolates being dipped or Red Hots being made.
As well, the Schimpff’s have recently purchased and are renovating another adjacent building on the South side for expanded retail space and more seating. “We are expanding now into the building next door. We went north a building and now we’re going south a building,” says Warren.
They have also acquired property at the rear of the business and have plans to grow their on-site production. “We hope to have it by the end of the year. We’ll see,” adds Jill. “We have plans to have modernized candy manufacturing. This will allow more candy to be made faster.”
This seems a logical development and with Jill and Warren Schimpff having no kids of their own, the next generation of candy makers, family members Steven, a mechanical engineer, and his wife, Cindy Shepherd who is working as full-time manager at Schimpff’s are poised to step in. Steve’s mother was a Schimpff and lived above the shop, as all Schimpff’s have done including Warren and Jill.
Schimpff’s is often stuffed with customers and museumgoers; so much so, there isn’t much room to maneuver. Schimpff’s is a treasure to the local community and certainly not a place that the family would object to spending time. They are open 10:00 AM-5:00 PM every day except Sundays.