TEMPLE CITY — Jan Ochoa browsed through the narrow aisles and glanced at the sparsely filled shelves of Cool's Candies. On her way out, she paused near the front door to take one last look as she held a small bag of candy.
In the window, a hand-lettered sign in red crayon said it all: "Closing Sale 40% off Everything." Her eyes grew moist.
"I've been shopping here years and years," said Ochoa, an Arcadia homemaker. "I come here for everything, especially something special. I come here for gifts for my grandchildren. I'm really disappointed."
A Fixture on Las Tunas Drive
Cool's, a fixture on Las Tunas Drive for the past 45 years, will close its doors at the end of the month.
Proprietor Wes Nunamaker said he made his last batch of chocolates and ribbon candy before Christmas, and the remaining stock is dwindling fast.
Cool's is one of a handful of Southern California confectioners still making a full line of chocolates, mints, ribbon candy and other treats. It has become an institution for chocolate and candy lovers in the area. The emporium is especially well known for custom candy making, particularly wedding mints that Nunamaker could match to virtually any color scheme.
In an era of chain stores with fancy decor, the family-operated candy shop has maintained a decidedly unchic appearance: pale yellow walls, basic fluorescent light fixtures and simple glass cases with wood trim worn from years of rubbing by wide-eyed youngsters angling for a better peek at the chocolates.
Nunamaker said that the store has been consistently profitable and last year was his best ever, but that he is tired of the business and wants to move on to other things. After the store closes, he will take a job as a salesman for a large candy company.
A pleasant, balding man of 56 with a paunch nurtured over 35 years of candy making, Nunamaker said he is selling the building and its contents separately, which means it will cease to exist as a candy store.
"Closing it is hard," he said. "I tried to see that it remained as a candy store, but I couldn't find a buyer for the right price and I couldn't find anyone who knew anything about candy.
"I'm going to miss many things about it. One of the best things is the nice people I've known for many years. I've had some very nice people as customers."
Several family members have worked in the store, including Nunamaker's wife, Elaine, and his 75-year-old mother, Lois. Nunamaker said his mother is "relieved" that he is closing the store. His sister, Councilwoman Mary Lou Swain, has managed the sales department for 22 years and said she plans to retire to devote more time to running for reelection. His two daughters and three nieces all have worked in the store, but none wanted to run the business, he said.
"There wasn't anyone in the family who wanted to take over and continue it," Nunamaker said.
News of the impending closure has saddened patrons as well as the store's nine employees.
"Some customers are almost in tears," said saleswoman Judy Pirrie, who has worked in the store off and on since 1959. "They call on the phone and say, 'I'm too upset. I'll have to call you later.' "
Ring Amid Chocolates
Pirrie and her husband, Tim, began their courtship when they worked in the store during their high school years. When Tim Pirrie proposed marriage, he presented her engagement ring inside a heart-shaped box of Cool's chocolates, she recalled. Since then, Pirrie's mother and daughter both have worked in the store.
"Everybody in town just loves this store," said Carol Wofford, who was a customer for 32 years before going to work there in 1981.
Nunamaker is a third-generation candy maker. His grandfather, Fred Cool, made candy in his native Nevada, Mo., and in Kansas City before ill health led him to move to San Clemente, where he opened a store in 1937.
Cool moved his store to Temple City in June, 1941, Nunamaker said, adding that his father, Al Nunamaker, and an uncle, Grover Cool, also worked in the business. Wes Nunamaker went to work there after he got out of the Army in 1949 and eventually took over the store, he said.
Goldie Pickering, a Cool's customer since Nunamaker first joined the business, happened by the store one day recently and saw the sign.
"To see the doors close is so hard," she said.