Heading into late March, Fowler's Chocolates Inc. owner Ted Marks had a decision to make.
The fourth-generation candy maker was heading into one of his top events of the year, the Easter season. As a food manufacturer, his business was deemed essential, meaning he was allowed to continue producing.
But as the coronavirus pandemic tightened its grip on Western New York, Marks decided to act on behalf of his employees' safety. He shuttered the factory and two of his five retail locations on March 20, turning the Hamburg, Cheektowaga and Tonawanda stories into in-store pickup options.
He expected a major hit. Then online sales exploded.
"We're digging a hole here at Easter time," Marks said. "But it's a lot shallower because of the online sales. It's really gratifying and humbling,"
Marks continued: "We're making lemonade as much as we can."
The company was founded in 1910 and sold in 1993 to Marks, who watched his employee base grow from six to 60 employees before the coronavirus shutdown.
Fowler's is expecting to catch up on orders tonight, meaning online shipments should make it to customer homes by Saturday. He said key items are selling out though, and even sponge candy is running in short supply.
That was the short-term outlook. Looking beyond that puts Fowler's into the great ambiguous swamp in which most businesses are operating across the world. The company applied Monday for the federal Paycheck Protection Program through Citizens Bank, and if the loan is approved then it will bring of its laid-off employees back into the fold.
But even that is a short-term salve. It's impossible to say when the company will be able to hit the gas again on its full business.
"We have loyal customers and a good business model," Marks said. "As soon as the crisis is over we'll be back at it. Hopefully it's sooner rather than later and not so long that it strains our resources and reserves."
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