JEFFERSONVILLE — A family business in downtown Jeffersonville has served sweets to the community for more than a century, enduring historic events from flooding to pandemics.
Schimpff’s Confectionary, 347 Spring St., this weekend is celebrating 130 years of business.
It is the oldest surviving retail business in Jeffersonville, and the oldest family-owned confectionary in Indiana that has remained in its original location.
Schimpff’s is marking the milestone with a special offer for its famous cinnamon red hots.
On Saturday, the red hots will be sold at 1891 prices, or 2 cents per quarter pound with a minimum $2.50 purchase.
Fourth-generation owners Warren and Jill Schimpff have owned the candy shop for about 30 years. Warren said keeping the business going has been one of his greatest joys in life.
“We’ve never worked so hard in our lives working at the business and managing,” Warren said. “We’ve never been so happy as with what we’ve accomplished here, and that’s keeping the family history alive and keeping the community history alive.”
A SWEET HISTORY
On April 11 of 1891, Gustav Schimpff, Sr. and his son, Gustav Schimpff, Jr. opened Schimpff’s Confectionary at its present location.
The Schimpff family previously had operated a candy shop in Louisville since the 1850s, and Gustav Sr.’s brother, Charles, opened a candy shop at Spring and Chestnut in Jeffersonville, which closed after about 20 years.
When Schimpff’s initially opened, it didn’t get much fanfare in The Evening News in Jeffersonville, which simply wrote: “Gus Schimpff of Louisville this morning opened his new candy factory.”
“That was a one-liner, and the paragraph next to it that took up a whole big article was a story about Doc Hancock’s horse having colic, so we know what was the important information of the day,” Warren said.
The shop has “morphed a lot” throughout its 130 years, Warren said. When Schimpff’s started, they were making treats such as hard candy and ice cream.
In the early days, Schimpff’s didn’t make the candy in the summer due to the humidity, so it was a wintertime treat, Warren said, and ice cream was the summertime business.
The deli at Schimpff’s started during the Great Depression, and the lunch service became an all-year business.
The COVID-19 pandemic has been a challenging time, but the economic impact on the business is “nothing” compared to the effects of the 1937 flood, Warren said.
The building flooded all the way to the upstairs apartments, and the Schimpff’s lost almost everything in the shop.
“The flood came in, destroyed most of the things — fixtures and equipment and stuff was damaged,” Warren said. “The business was closed for two or three months.”
During World War II, people shared their sugar rations with Schimpff’s to help the business supply them with sweets.
In the 1950s, part of the space was used for a hobby shop selling items such as model airplanes and train sets.
The candy shop continues to produce classics such as its cinnamon red hots, a hard candy that has been made at Schimpff’s since it opened.
Schimpff’s continues to make staples such as Modjeskas, or caramel-covered marshmallows, and hard fish candies. The candy shop also started making its own hand-dipped chocolates in the 1970s.
Warren and Jill bought the business in 1990 after the passing of family members who previously owned the business. Warren’s cousin, Sonny, died in 1988, and Warren’s aunt, Catherine, died in 1989.
The couple was living in California at the time, but they bought Schimpff’s to “keep it in the family and keep history going,” Warren said.
Warren and Jill have been married for 54 years. They both grew up in Chicago, but Warren came to the shop frequently to visit family and learn the trade. Jill visited Schimpff’s for the first time at age 16.
About 10 years after buying Schimpff’s, Warren and Jill moved to Jeffersonville from California in time for the 100th anniversary of the candy shop.
WORKING TOWARD THE FUTURE
Warren and Jill have expanded the space and the offerings at Schimpff’s over the years, including a museum featuring thousands of pieces of historical candy memorabilia and a space for candy-making demonstrations.
Steve Shepherd, the son of Warren’s cousin, is the fifth generation involved in the business, and his wife, Cindy Shepherd, is the shop’s manager.
“They’re very slowly taking over the business,” Jill said. “Their last name is Shepherd, so I joke and say the shepherds will lead us.”
Cindy said for many families, visiting Schimpff’s is a tradition that has carried on through generations.
“I think it’s really important to keep it alive,” she said.
Over the past year, Schimpff’s has remained open during the pandemic. Jill said they were lucky to have a soda fountain, deli and candy store wrapped into own business.
“We’ve been very fortunate,” Warren said. “We didn’t sell as much candy as we had before, but it didn’t shut us down completely.”
On Wednesday, longtime customer Dorothy Willett, 96, enjoyed lunch at Schimpff’s deli, a tradition that started 57 years ago when she worked near downtown Jeffersonville.
“Their food is always good, and they have the most wonderful waiters,” she said. “And I get all my candy here, too.”
Warren is grateful for the support from the community.
“We’ve provided something here, but the community has also provided the means for us to continue,” he said.
Jeffersonville Main Street Executive Director Jay Ellis said the candy shop is a “wonderful example” of a successful mom & pop business.
“Generations of families return to downtown to visit Schimpff’s all the time to get sweet treats and rekindle memories,” he said. “They have been an anchor here for 130 years and we hope their next 130 years are just as sweet.”