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Candy shop closing after three decades

People filled a small candy shop, known as the Hummingbird, on Saturday to say goodbye to Arlee’s longest continuously owned business.

Colleen Despain traveled from Lolo to stock up on her favorite treats before the doors closed. Saturday was the last official day the store was open, although the doors will open again from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. on Friday, Oct. 6, and Saturday, Oct. 7, for a storewide clearance sale to get rid of any remaining inventory. 

Despain looked at the jars of candy lining the shelves. She really wanted these little candies that she calls “chalk” but they were already sold out. She got a bag of black licorice and another bag of colorful licorice. “I’m a licorice nut,” she said.   

She likes going for weekend drives from her home in Lolo and ending up at the candy shop in Arlee. And now that the shop is closing for good, she isn’t sure yet what she will do when she has a lazy weekend to fill. She sighed as she said: “It’s sad they are closing.”

Owners Tony and Michelle Hoyt were busy filling jars with candy and keeping up with customers during what they said has been the busiest couple of days in the store’s history. For them, selling the business is a celebration, although they said they’ll miss the customers. According to the shop’s Facebook page, which is full of warm wishes and sad to see you goes, customers will also miss the Hoyts. Some even brought in champagne and cards to celebrate the retirement. 

“All of this (attention) makes me feel like we did something and made a difference to people,” Tony said. “I’m going to really miss the people.”

He wasn’t too fond of unloading pallets of candy without a forklift or keeping the jars of candy clean, but he did really like talking to customers about everything from sports to the weather. From time to time, he could also be seen pulling out a map to give people directions or tell them about the great places in Montana to visit. 

The big question people have been asking him the past few weeks: “Why are you closing the shop?”

He said the answer was summed up by something one of his customers said. The customer was getting a bag of licorice for his 96-year-old mother who lives in a nursing home. The two men got to talking about life. 

Tony is in his 70s and was thinking about his own retirement, so he asked when the man’s mother had retired. As the story goes, the woman didn’t retire until she was in her 80s. Tony asked if it was worth it, stretching out the work life. The customer said his mother says: “It was the worst decision I ever made.”

She said her friends had all passed away and she wasn’t able to do the things she wanted to do. Tony said that statement validated what he was thinking. “That summed it up; that really summed it up,” he said. He was sure he was ready to retire. 

After explaining the reason for his departure, Tony leaned over the counter and pointed at three small children, each holding open a bag of candy. They were trying to decide which treats to put in the bags next. “That is what this was all about: kids getting excited and bargaining for what they want,” he said.

Twenty years ago, the business was in another shop in Arlee. Tony moved it to its current location in what used to be a post office. He said business in a small town isn’t always easy. 

When U.S. Highway 93 was changed so that the town has two one-way routes on each side, many businesses lost half of their customers.

“People didn’t want to bother with driving around to get to the other side,” he said. “The highway almost ruined most businesses in town. I think I was affected the least, but we did see an impact.”

He thought for a moment and said the town lost the meat market and a deli. Several other businesses are still trying to hang on, he said.

“That couplet was the dumbest idea,” he said. He added that new businesses have moved in since the highway construction and are figuring out how to deal with the divided traffic.

He learned a few tricks about keeping a small business going including making sure that people can see lots of signs and focusing on tourist traffic.

“People need to remember how much traffic this highway gets in the summer,” he said. 

The business also changed in the past 30 years to help bring in more people. When the shop first opened, people stood in line and pointed out what they wanted one at a time.

“People would get tired of waiting and leave,” he said. “Michelle had the self-serve idea so people could pick out what they wanted themselves. People really liked that.”

Tony was hoping that someone would buy the business and keep it going. While that hasn’t happened yet, he remains hopeful. 

“You never know what could happen,” he said.

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