American was still plunged in the Great Depression and World War II was yet to happen when 18-year-old Catherine Kereszts began working in her Uncle Emile’s confectioner’s shop in New York City. Emile has started his little chocolate empire back in the 1920s and eventually expanded it to seven shops in and around the city.
“When you own a candy shop, the whole family works in it,” said her daughter, Kathleen “Kathy” Sinico.
Sinico is living proof of that, as are her own children and grandchildren. She long worked in, and eventually owned, Catherine’s Chocolates, the store her mother started back in 1958 after the family moved to the Berkshires. “I’ve been doing this since 1972, and so have my children,” she said.
A Great Barrington staple, the business was finally sold outside the family for the first time last week when Steve and Trent Kinney purchased it.
And still Kathy Sinico is not out of the business … . “Kathy said she would be willing to stay on and train us,” said Steve Kinney. “That’s a benefit you are not likely to find when buying a business.”
Sinico was cheerful last week as she busily created candies for the bustling Easter chocolate-buying season. The shelves were lined with Easter bunnies clutching carrots, decorated chocolate eggs and gayly wrapped boxes of mixed chocolates. Other shoppers were putting together their own combinations of sweets in customized boxes of chocolates. Sinico still uses the recipes brought to the Berkshires from New York by her mother.
Like Sinico, Kinney’s family moved to the Berkshires from the Natick/Framingham MA area after he departed for college and the Army. He returned here to be close to his family following an eight-year stint in the military; he had met his spouse, Trent, while deployed in Afghanistan. Both men were captains in the 10th Mountain Division of the US Army and piloted Apache helicopters.
Trent Kinney is currently deployed in Europe—his third deployment—but will separate from the service this fall and return to help run the store. Like so many couples who come to the Berkshires, they see it as a good place to raise a family and hope to start one of their own next year.
For the past several years, the couple has operated an at-home business called Berkshire Treats. “We bought products like Berkshire Bark and Catherine’s Chocolates—locally made from small vendors—and made up gift baskets that we sold on line,” reported Steven Kinney. “That’s how we met Kathy two or three years ago. We knew she wanted to sell and we both knew we wanted to own our own business. Buying an existing business made sense.”
The sale has been pending for almost a year. “We started negotiating last June and I worked in the store leading up to the holiday season and then again around Valentine’s Day to get the idea of how the front end of the store worked and what production was like. We finally closed on April 12th, so we’re just over a week old.”
He assured customers that the Catherine’s Chocolates they have so faithfully patronized for decades will not change. “Kathy has a great customer base and people know the quality of the product. Nothing is going to change. The store front people are not going to change.
It will be a deep learning curve, but that’s why I’m happy that Kathy is here to help me.”
The candy and staff won’t change but there will be some modest adjustments. Kinney said he will incorporate Berkshire Treats into the new location. “We will bring it in as a subsidiary of the larger shop,” he said. “Now that Easter is over, we can bring in the materials and business contacts. We will have a place for production and packaging and a store front to sell from.
Then, in the future, ice cream will be added to the services the store offers. In a way, this will bring the confectioner’s business full circle, back to Uncle Emile’s candy stores in New York. “You always had a soda fountain in a candy store in those days,” said Sinico.
Kinney said it is unlikely he can bring ice cream in this year, but “definitely next year.”
Catherine’s Chocolates is located at 260 Stockbridge Rd. It is open Monday to Saturday, 9AM to 6PM; Sundays, noon to 4PM; 800-345-2462 or 413-528-2510.