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Posted on Thu, Dec 1, 2011 : 12:48 p.m.

Chocolate House of Ann Arbor on South Main Street to shut down this month

By Lizzy Alfs

The Chocolate House of Ann Arbor, located at 330 S. Main St. next to the Prickly Pear Southwest Cafe, will close for good by Dec. 24, said co-owner Jacob Smith.

The building, which is owned by Terry Wolf, has a sign in the window announcing that the space is available for lease.

The decision to close, Smith said, came as the business struggled to turn a profit.

chocolate_house_of_ann_arbor.jpg

Co-owner Jacob Smith outside The Chocolate House of Ann Arbor when it reopened in 2009.

File photo

“The biggest thing that made us really decide to close it was that the store can support itself and can make itself go month to month, but it’s not bringing in any profit at all,” he said.

“Heading into the winter, business dives off terribly,” he continued. “Bad weather kills us. We don’t want to basically dig ourselves into a hole. We figured it’s better to cut our losses and get out.”

The ice cream, chocolate and coffee shop has undergone various name and ownership changes in the past few years. In 2009, former owner Vicki Ponitz sold the business to her nephew and it reopened under the name Carillon Chocolates.

Then, Carillon Chocolates closed and Smith, a former Chocolate House employee, and Aaron McRae took over a week later, renaming it The Chocolate House of Ann Arbor.

But what seemed like a great opportunity to own and operate a business quickly deteriorated as competition took customers away from The Chocolate House, Smith said.

“There’s just way too much competition,” he said. “There are three other chocolate shops downtown and a Starbucks right around the corner from us. Customers come in every day drinking their Starbucks and spend maybe 80 cents on candy.”

He said the franchise coffee and candy shops draw more customers because tourists flock toward recognizable brands. They also don’t run out of products as quickly as The Chocolate House, he said.

“We have to make everything in the store, all the time,” he said. “And so daily we will have customers who are expecting certain things, and they get upset if we run out of something. We don’t have boxes of stuff stocked in the back.”

But there are loyal customers who love The Chocolate House, Smith added.

“The customers who try our stuff, love it,” he said. “We do have a loyal customer base and people who have come in here for years. We just don’t seem to be picking up any new people.”

When The Chocolate House of Ann Arbor closes by Dec. 24, 4 employees will lose their jobs. And although Smith will miss seeing his coworkers every day, he said he’s just ready to move on.

“I guess I don’t feel that badly about it closing, because I did my best,” he said. “When I took over at 23 years old, I tried something that most people will never try. I’d be lying if I said it won’t be kind of a relief to get to live my own life again.”

Lizzy Alfs is a business reporter for AnnArbor.com. Reach her at 734-623-2584 or email her at lizzyalfs@annarbor.com. Follow her on Twitter at http://twitter.com/lizzyalfs.

Comments

omniskeptic

Sat, Dec 3, 2011 : 12:15 a.m.

But despite the unexplained disappearance of several orphans, Gingerbread House of Ann Arbor is still going strong. And as a matter of unrelated curiosity, why is it that a posting containing a string of non-text characters, used deliberately to spare the readers any actual foul language, is a violation of editorial guidelines, but the phrase, "... they kind of sucked." isn't? Not that I object to either one, just askin'.

zax

Fri, Dec 2, 2011 : 3:06 p.m.

too bad that we can't support a coffee shop that is not a national chain. so sorry to see you go, we went there after every downtown dinner for our desert. no other chocolate shop is as good.

Kerry Fingerle

Fri, Dec 2, 2011 : 3:54 a.m.

That's too bad. Chocolate House is a great place, and my friends and I definitely chose to go there for fondue instead of the Melting Pot, whose prices are extremely high for such little portions. Chocolate House will be missed.

Terry Brennan

Fri, Dec 2, 2011 : 3:24 a.m.

The place I work for wanted to buy a hundred ice cream cones from these guys on the last day of school. It was too much trouble for them to figure it out. Where's the hustle? Where's the recognition of opportunity? Anyone else sick of all these unremarkable places complaining that people don't just walk in and fork over money?

Melrose

Fri, Dec 2, 2011 : 2:44 a.m.

My wife and I went in there for a coffee on the way to a UM football game a few weeks ago and as late as 10:30 the young guy working there had just showed up to open the place. He was in a bit of a fog. Very bad business practice when you have thousands of people out there. The coffee was ok I guess but he couldn't serve us drip coffee because it wasn't ready. We went back before the Nebraska game only because the Starbucks was stupidly jammed to the hilt but at like 11:00 the place wasn't even open. Really??

pegret

Fri, Dec 2, 2011 : 6:05 p.m.

Had the same experience of the place not being open during regular business hours. Unfortunate.

jns131

Fri, Dec 2, 2011 : 2:52 a.m.

That is what you get when you hire UM students who are up late partying and you wonder what this generation is coming too?

15crown00

Fri, Dec 2, 2011 : 1:59 a.m.

It's just tough to make it in downtown Ann Arbor.someone else will try it again

joe.blow

Fri, Dec 2, 2011 : 1:16 a.m.

They had a problem, they kind of sucked. I once went in for some yummy chocolate cake, it was delicious, but a bit over priced, which I was willing to pay for something made in the store. Leaving, I thanked the employee and told her they do a good job making chocolate cake. She responded by telling me that it came from a box. ERRR? I've only been back once since, for ice cream. You need to make your own chocolate in a store like that, or no one cares.

Tru2Blu76

Fri, Dec 2, 2011 : 4:52 a.m.

You may be right: I've treated it as a joke so far but during summer, I dropped in there for a good old fashioned Ice Cream Soda. Only problem was: none of the staff had a clue about what that was, let alone how to make one (even a chocolate one). Of course: the owner had no clue about needing a soda fountain (the device which dispenses soda water in a strong stream to "stir up" the chocolate syrup in the glass). Oh and: did you notice, the Chocolate House (also) does not make its own ice cream? Stroh's - and that's no longer produced by Detroit's Stroh's Brewing Co. but by a buy-out company in another state.

vicki honeyman

Fri, Dec 2, 2011 : 1:08 a.m.

so sad to read, yet again, of another locally-owned and operated downtown retail business closing. it's frightening that ann arbor is unable to support it's truly unique businesses.

Tru2Blu76

Fri, Dec 2, 2011 : 1:06 a.m.

They're closing just as winter arrives?~! OMG, now what am I gonna do for hot cocoa?! I recall: the history of that place goes back to the Lovin Spoonful: which itself was unique and kinda quaint but had very good ice cream (in cones or on dishes). Plus: that place is where I discovered the joys of Cincinnati Chili. Mmm - good! Ann Arbor Chocolate House: Just another Ann Arbor business which had a core following but got run over by the chains and franchises. Ann Arbor has lost the right to call itself anything but run of the mill. I'm no enemy of progress but since when does homogenizing everything equal progress? Ann Arbor has become something which Ri¬Ęk $nyder has dreamed about most of his life. (insert puking sound here)

Stephen Landes

Thu, Dec 1, 2011 : 9:33 p.m.

I've seen this placed for several years and always walked by -- never knew anything about it and can't remember ever seeing any advertising for it. Maybe part of the problem was marketing.

kellycm

Thu, Dec 1, 2011 : 9:29 p.m.

Another downtown business bites the dust. What will be left of Ann Arbor??

pegret

Fri, Dec 2, 2011 : 6:01 p.m.

Starbucks, 7/11, CVS, etc.....

jns131

Fri, Dec 2, 2011 : 2:50 a.m.

UM students. Duh.

dougfair

Thu, Dec 1, 2011 : 8:55 p.m.

Yet another business I've only gotten to once - because parking and traffic downtown is such a pain. It takes at least 10 minutes to drive around the garage looking for an open space, 5 to 10 minutes each way to walk to the business, so a half hour just to GO there. Not worth it at the end of a busy day to make a quick stop to pick up this or that little item when I still have a long commute home.

Sunkmybttlshp

Thu, Dec 1, 2011 : 8:13 p.m.

UGH! No! I just started going there recently and I fell in love with a couple items. And the current owner is correct with what he says, because I went in there for a specific item that I had previously tried, and they were all out. I just tried some new stuff which was just as good, but I could see someone who drove into town for something being a little upset. Its too bad, I feel its at a disadvantage for being set back off of the street further than the rest of the shops. It shouldn't really make that much difference, but its very easy to miss for that very reason. Time to stock up.

say it plain

Thu, Dec 1, 2011 : 8:20 p.m.

What did you love from there? Oh, you probably won't share now, because there won't be much more of it :-| I'm guessing the owners are ready to move completely on now... But I hate to think that some possible chocolate deliciousness is going to go by the wayside! Perhaps they can be convinced to sell at the farmer's market or something! Isn't it true that recently MI small-food-operations laws have changed to make it simpler to sell your stuff?

Ariel

Thu, Dec 1, 2011 : 7:31 p.m.

I feel like Chocolate House didn't do much marketing to promote all of their different products. I stumbled across their store one day in the middle of winter and realized they had different types of hot chocolate. I would love to curl up in their store and drink some hot chocolate while eating some cake. Unfortunately, due to the location, I would never pay to go downtown just to buy a $4 cup of hot chocolate. Sad to see them go, but not at all surprised.

jns131

Fri, Dec 2, 2011 : 2:49 a.m.

They can come to downtown Ypsilanti. A great library and a great vibrant downtown. Hate to say it, it is cheaper rent then Ann Arbor any day of the week. I'll be first in line if he comes to my neck of the woods.

justcurious

Thu, Dec 1, 2011 : 7:24 p.m.

Sounds like he made a thoughtful and sensible decision. I can understand his relief.

Phil Dokas

Thu, Dec 1, 2011 : 6:54 p.m.

Sorry to see a local shop close down! Any word on what will become of the historical booth they have inside from the old Drake's Sandwich Shop that lived on North University?

5c0++ H4d13y

Thu, Dec 1, 2011 : 6:46 p.m.

Good fondue there. I'm sure Melting Pot didn't help.

jns131

Fri, Dec 2, 2011 : 2:55 a.m.

Wal Greens on Prospect ended a great mom and pop drugstore that delivered to seniors in our area who could not get out. One of the owners would drive to their house. Wal Greens ended that making our seniors make that trek to their services. So, my dears, this is what a big chain will do to a mom and pop shop. We in Ypsi sure are loosing them by the dozens.

buildergirl

Thu, Dec 1, 2011 : 6:44 p.m.

So sad. I'll be in one last time for the best hot chocolate in town.

say it plain

Thu, Dec 1, 2011 : 6:33 p.m.

That's sad, sorry to see them go. I've only been inside a couple of times, but it seemed comfortable and pleasant. Competition is stiff for that niche though, and I'm assuming rent was high. High rent kills so much, especially when the *rest* of an economy is--unlike *rents*!--subject to ups and downs. We're decidedly in a period of extended "down" in MI. But if rents weren't so damned high then more retailers and small-scale food operations could stand to take the risk of weathering the winters to see another spring without the very real fear of losing *everything* to feed the landlords.

Soothslayer

Fri, Dec 2, 2011 : 12:10 p.m.

I've not heard of a landlord (owner) that wasn't a complete slumlord and snake. They, and hedge fund managers, simply siphon off of others and serve no benefit to mankind. They can go the way of the dodo.

Dexter Bear

Thu, Dec 1, 2011 : 7:34 p.m.

A-MEN!!!!!!!!! Why are rents in Washtenaw/Livingston so enormous? I have a business in those counties plus Lenawee--the rent THERE is actually shockingly reasonable. And it may be a lower income area, but with lower rent and tourists, I can actually pay for things other than just feeding the landlord. Rent needs to keep pace with small businesses--slower and lower!

Lionel Hutz

Thu, Dec 1, 2011 : 6:32 p.m.

Sad, but not surprising. Downtown Ann Arbor has too many chocolate and cupcake places.