A well-loved Griffin Avenue candy shop could be yours – if you’ve got a sweet enough tooth for the job.
Toby and Peggy Wenham, both age 67, decided over the last year that it was time to sell “Sweet Necessities,” their 16-year-old ice cream, tea and candy shop. There are projects around the house to tackle, hikes and flights to take and grandkids to play with, Toby said.
“I’ve been running 100 miles per hour for 15-plus years,” Toby said. “It’s time to stop and smell some roses.”
He’ll finally be joining his wife Peggy in retirement. In late 2019, she closed Almost Necessities, a gift and craft shop that shares the same building with Sweet Necessities. Ever the straight-shooter, Peggy says she doesn’t miss running her business.
But “I loved (it),” she added. “I wouldn’t have been in it so long (if I didn’t.) I’ve been doing this for a very long time, and it was fun. But I’m no spring chicken anymore.”
The couple, who own the building housing both Necessities, are looking to fill both properties. Peggy said she’s already found someone for Almost Necessities, and they’re just waiting to get some renovations done inside. Toby, who runs Sweet Necessities, is still selecting his heir.
Sheree Schmidt, a clerk who has worked at Sweet Necessities since around 2007, said she’s loved every minute of it. When the store sells, she plans on retiring, too.
Selling ice cream and chocolate for a living can make you pretty popular, she said.
“I almost feel like a celebrity in town,” Schmidt said. “People go, ‘I know you, don’t I?’ ”
A WORTHY SUCCESSOR
“I’m looking for somebody that can carry on with exactly what I’m doing,” Toby said of Sweet Necessities. “They’d be crazy not to. … If they have better ideas than I do, more power to them. But if you make sacrifices (to the quality of the product), especially in a small town, word spreads quickly.”
He’s already gotten some bites and expects to have found someone by the summer.
They’d aimed to hire a contractor to remodel the front of the building at Almost Necessities to resemble its original 1923 facade last year, but COVID-19 put a wrench in that plan. Toby said they may have to leave any remodeling to the next building owner.
Toby said he’s so confident in the business’ viability that, were he “younger and more ambitious,” he’d try to start a chain of shops like Sweet Necessities. He said he’ll happily provide his knowledge and expertise in confection-crafting to whoever takes over the shop.
At the same time, the couple is realistic about the challenges of running a small business in 2021.
When asked how she stayed successful running Almost Necessities, Peggy laughs and is blunt: “We own the building.”
“I probably wouldn’t have stayed after 2008, when everything tanked,” Peggy said. “I do a fraction of what I used to do back in 2000, during the good times. … Retail is so hard.”
Toby’s advice for would-be business owners: “Be prepared for long hours, and not much return initially.”
It might sound obvious, but just being friendly and interested in your customer’s lives goes a long way too, the couple said.
HISTORY BEHIND THE NECESSITIES
The Wenhams have been in the retail game for a long time. They started out making wood reindeer planters to raise money for a nephew who needed a liver transplant about 40 years ago, according to Peggy’s Etsy page.
They opened their own shop in 1992, and a few years later snagged the lease at the Enumclaw National Bank building across the street. They opened Almost Necessities there in 1994, and in 2003, the couple bought the building as a way of investing in their future in Enumclaw.
“We knew Enumclaw would be growing,” Toby said. “We’d tell everybody that we’re five or six years behind the rest of King County, but it’s catching up fast.”
The Wenhams originally rented the space where Sweet Necessities sits to Cafe Panini, a restaurant that outgrew the storefront and moved across Cole Street in January 2005.
Toby spent several months remodeling the space, initially intending to rent it out to a new owner, but most of the interest was from hairdressers or those seeking office space.
“We wanted retail,” Peggy said. “You can always use more retail, as far as I’m concerned.”
The couple decided they could set up a second business, and landed on the candy shop.
Sweet Necessities launched in July 2005, starting with homemade fudge, caramels and peanut brittle, recipes taken from Peggy’s mom and high school home economics classes. They started selling tea, too, because they couldn’t afford an espresso maker at first.
It was “nip and tuck” at the beginning and took years for the shop to build a good reputation, Toby said. As time went on, Sweet Necessities became Toby’s domain and Peggy continued running Almost Necessities, although they co-own both businesses.
“THE HAPPIEST PLACE IN TOWN”
Toby and Peggy both said the best part of running their businesses – and what they will miss the most – is getting to know customers. “You can’t do that on Amazon,” Peggy said.
“I’ve seen so many kids grow up, from toddlers (to) going off to college,” Toby said.
Since 2009, Peggy has also sold many of her aprons, pins and tea cozies through her online Etsy store. One product in particular has taken off around the world: Cookie cutters.
Peggy said she sells an abnormally large number of marijuana leaf-shaped cookie cutters: “I don’t ask” what they do with those cookie cutters, she said with a laugh.
For his part, Toby drives 120 miles roundtrip at least once a week to get his ice cream from Snoqualmie Gourmet Ice Cream. Insider news ranked Sweet Necessities the best ice cream shop in Washington state in 2019.
The trip is worth it, Toby says – and they go through the ice cream fast.
“I picked up 26 three gallon tubs this last Friday,” Toby said April 27. “I’ll be picking up another 15 tubs this week.”
Business was down only 10 percent in 2020, despite the store having to close outright for 20 days when the initial hardline COVID-19 restrictions kicked in. The business “never really faltered,” he said.
“Even during the Great Depression, they set records for the sale of ice cream,” Toby said. “People need their comfort foods.”
Overall, Sweet Necessities has brought “therapy” to the community, Schmidt said.
“Many people come in and say they’re having a rough day, and needed chocolate to get through it,” Schmidt said. “I’d say it’s the happiest place in town.”