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Legendary Colorado Springs candy business back in family's hands

October 31, 2017 Updated: November 1, 2017 at 6:22 am
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Patsy's Candies has a more than 100-year history in the area. It had been in the hands of the Niswonger family since the '50s. They sold the business in early 2016. But they are back as the owners again after a short stint away. Si Niswonger (left) runs a wrapping machine while chocolatier Lacy Barkley puts chocolate bars on a conveyer belt on Tuesday, October 31, 2017. Photo by Jerilee Bennett/The Gazette

The Niswongers want you to know: They're back at Patsy's.

The history of Patsy's Candies reaches back more than 100 years. For 60 of those years, the business had been in the hands of the Niswonger family. But in early 2016, they sold it.

And after 19 months, the business became theirs again.

"We're really excited," says Si Niswonger, a third-generation candymaker who works to produce the treats at the factory at 1540 S. 21st St. on the west side of Colorado Springs. A Patsy's Candies store fronts the factory. "People are coming in, I've had hugs, I've had people almost in tears. It's been such a Colorado Springs tradition and such a part of our area."

Patsy Mahaney, an Irishman who immigrated to the United States in the late 1800s, opened the original Patsy's store in Manitou Springs in 1903. In the early 1920s, he sold the Manitou shop to a local family, the Osborns. They grew the business, adding peanut brittle and saltwater taffy to the lineup, before selling it to Howard and Carolyn Niswonger in 1956.

Patsy's Candies has a more than 100-year history in the area. It had been in the hands of the Niswonger family since the '50s. They sold the business in early 2016. But they are back as the owners again after a short stint away. Wes Niswonger's (middle) father bought the business and his children, Christine Farrell (left) and Si Niswonger (right) are the third generation to run the business. Tuesday, October 31, 2017. Photo by Jerilee Bennett/The Gazette 

At the time, the business had the Manitou shop and one in downtown Colorado Springs. The Niswongers have since closed the downtown store, and they lease the Manitou store as a franchise. The factory on 21st Street has been operating for about 40 years; it was Wes Niswonger - the son of Howard and Caroline and the father of Si - who automated the candymaking after finding that rolling and dipping chocolates by hand was too tedious and time-consuming. (Wes was also the one who introduced chocolates to the business.)

The family hadn't been looking to sell Patsy's but had always "had a policy that we would talk to people and entertain the idea," Si Niswonger said. And when Diva Lauren, an entrepreneur from the Denver area with a background in the beauty and fashion industry, came along with a desire to buy Patsy's Candies, it seemed like the right time, said Christine Farrell, Si's sister. Their mother, Annette, known as the face of the company, had died in 2013, and Wes was looking to retire.

Still, "it was a hard decision," Si said. He didn't have to leave the candy business, though; he and his brother, Mike, stayed with Patsy's under Lauren's ownership, though Mike has since left.

"My brother and I had been here all our lives," Si said. "She knew that we knew the business and loved what we did, so she told Mike and I that the only way she was going to do it is if we stayed on."

The family, though, said the business suffered under Lauren. Though Si said she seemed to truly love the candy business, he was dismayed by a new website that he found inferior to the old one; Farrell said a spartan look that Lauren brought to the factory store had some people thinking it was going out of business. "I think she was in over her head," Farrell said.

Patsy's - now called Patsy's Original - landed back with the Niswongers as the result of a court fight that began when Wes Niswonger filed suit in May in District Court. According to court records, Lauren contracted to buy the business for $1.35 million in early 2016; the suit alleged breach of the purchase agreement and promissory note obligations. The court in September ordered Lauren to return the business to the Niswongers. (Attempts by The Gazette to reach Lauren through a representative and through her company Doctors' Beauty Choice were not successful.)

Despite the extended court battle, it was still a bit of a shock to get Patsy's back, Si Noswinger said. "At the last minute, I thought she was going to pull a rabbit out of a hat."

While the family doesn't bother with job titles and everyone pitches in as needed, they do have areas of expertise. Si has always been on "the cook/production end of things" and has also been learning the chocolate side since Mike's departure. Farrell serves as the officer manager and bookkeeper. Also active in Patsy's are Wes, along with his new wife, Cheryl. The two married about three years ago after both losing their spouses and meeting on ChristianMingle.com.

"It's a two-edged sword," Wes said. "We were enjoying retirement, and now we're back at it. But there are a lot of great people that we have worked with over the years, customers and vendors, etc., so it's nice to get back with them."

As soon as Wes knew he was getting Patsy's back, "there was a new spring in his step," Cheryl said. "He's done this all this life, since he was a teenager. In a way, it's been very good for him."

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