The Lititz-based Wilbur Chocolate Company offers a "step back in time." It has no theme park or amusement rides and it's located off the beaten track, in a small Pennsylvania city. Perfect reasons why a trip to Wilbur and its Candy Americana Museum can be a fun and refreshing time.
Wilbur does not, for health and safety reasons, offer a factory tour. However, it does have working chocolatiers on staff and on display in the museum's kitchen. They are friendly, patient with questioners and interesting to hear as they describe and show how specialty candies are created. Consider budgeting 60 minutes for a visit. The candy store and museum are open Monday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and admission is free. Metered parking is available nearby.
Wilbur, which now is owned by food-producing conglomerate Cargill Inc., is no newcomer to the chocolate business. It began manufacturing the Wilbur Bud, a smaller alternative to the highly marketed Hershey Kiss, in 1894. It remains the company's most popular sweet, although the firm produces more than 240 million pounds of chocolates and candies annually. Founder Henry Oscar Wilbur combined operations from three sites to Lititz in the early 1930s.
The Wilbur factory, a historial red brick structure of several stories, occupies a block-sized parcel near the center of downtown Lititz. It's a five-minute walk from the town square, at Broad and Main Streets, to Wilbur's front door. Climbing the stairs may not be suitable for very young children, older adults, parents with strollers, or the physically handicapped; therefore, an automated lift is available directly beside the main door and is easily accessible from the sidewalk.
Once inside, stop and smell--go on--take a BIG whiff! The aroma is pleasant, not heavy, and it permeates rooms open to the public. There are three main areas; one dedicated to retail, where candies of all types, sizes, weights and prices are available for purchase, another as a small museum area and the third area offers a continuous-loop video about chocolate production. Also located in the third area is an opportunity to see kitchen workers hand-making chocolates. At the heart of the promotional effort, though, is Wilbur's own goods. To that end, visitors are treated to free samples of the Wilbur Buds that made the firm famous. Enjoy!
You'll hear a rumble of machinery overhead as you turn into the museum area. That's the factory at work, which is a restricted area as per the government rules. Its substitute, the museum, presents both a trip back in time and a cameo of Wilbur's current business. The former is showcased in chocolate-making memorabilia and candy packaging and advertising collected during the 1970s by the wife of a former company president. Molds, tins, boxes, early candy-making machines, and even ornate chocolate pots of fine porcelain are on display; these likely will appeal to those who remember when candy bars sold for just one nickle.
The modern-day view starts with a continuous video about chocolate-making. You'll hear its voice-over before you see it; a large display screen is conveniently located here. The real star of the show is the candy kitchen at the rear of the third room. It features several chocolatiers making or decorating candies. A clear plexiglass divider separates the public from the workers but some sections are removed so visitors can talk (depending on the crowd) with the chocolatiers.
Although it's fun to visit any day of the week, everyone enjoys a very special event held on the last Saturday of every month: "Play Date Saturday," during which young and young at heart are given the opportunity to be a chocolatier! For $1 guests are outfitted in proper garb, after which they create their very own chocolate creation to take home (photo opportunities so bring your phone/camera). Every other month a "guest star" stops by and gives a free demonstration of his or her skills. There are more special events being created so be sure to visit their web site or Facebook page often.
The best time to visit Wilbur may be during October, when Lititz hosts an annual charitable fund-raising event called the Chocolate Walk during Columbus Day weekend. Visitors can buy buttons that grant them samples of confections at strageic locations throughout town. Tickets go on sale July 1 each year and are usually sold out before the event takes place; don't wait to get YOURS! With only 2,000 sold, they go quickly.
Lititz holds MANY tourist-oriented events each year. The entire town is enjoyable; its business district is lined with many specialty shops and boutiques, and interesting restaurants.