AKRON, OH – Greek immigrants Gus Kleines and John Petrou opened the Chocolate Shop in Akron on July 29, 1916, and as the Akron Beacon Journal (ABJ) reported, “it took moxie to open a chocolate shop on a 95-degree day in July.”
The shop was located at 4 South Howard Street near West Market Street with the Cretan-born Kleines as company president, Petrou, from Mandra outside Athens, as secretary and treasurer, while two other Greek immigrants, George Delis and Mike Lampos, served as vice presidents, ABJ reported.
“While the name might sound generic a century later, it was ahead of its time,” ABJ reported, noting that “such establishments were called candy stores and confectioneries before the businessmen introduced Akron to the ‘chocolate shop.’”
“We manufacture our own ice creams and candies and guarantee them to be pure,” the Chocolate Shop advertised, ABJ reported.
The Chocolate Shop was “brightly decorated” and “in a narrow storefront with counters on both sides of the front entrance and small round tables in the back,” ABJ reported, adding that “colorful murals lined the walls as customers crossed a tile floor featuring a gaudy hexagon pattern” and “ceiling fans whirled overhead and globe lights dangled from a tin ceiling.”
The owners called it “the sweetest place in Akron,” ABJ reported, noting that “South Howard Street no longer exists, a casualty of urban renewal in the 1960s,” and “today, the site is a parking garage for the John F. Seiberling Federal Building and U.S. Courthouse.”
“An orchestra played as customers arrived for the grand opening on the hottest day of 1916,” ABJ reported, adding that “the mercury was pushing 100 and those who braved the swelter were rewarded with souvenirs, ice cream sodas and ‘the greatest variety of homemade candies in the city.’”
The shop was soon popular in Akron, especially among the city’s downtown theatregoers. Kleines told customers that “his candies were wholesome and delicious, and ‘nothing you could give would give more pleasure, and every mouthful of goodness will recall you to them,’” ABJ reported.
The candy prices ranged from 9-39 cents per pound, about $2.15-9.35 today, ABJ reported, listing some of the treats which included “molasses cream twists, butterscotch wafers, black walnut taffy, sea foam, tutti frutti, coconut crisps… and chocolate-covered marshmallows.”
Also available were “more exotic fare” such as “sauerkraut candy made with fresh coconut, Mexican kisses made with English walnuts, and chop suey, a boiled confection of sugar, cream, fondant, walnuts and dates.”
The shop advertised, “Some people haven’t any idea of the importance of our candy store — how big it is, and how busy we always are. We make the very best of candies — our confectioner is the best one we know of. Everything is so fresh, every material used is the best, every piece of candy is good,” ABJ reported.
“In a bizarre instance of cross promotion, Dr. Frederick Egbert opened a dentist’s office above the Chocolate Shop… customers could get their teeth filled after getting their fill of sugar,” ABJ reported.
The shop was “serving light lunches” in 1918 and “by 1919, it opened a second shop at 336 S. Main St. near Exchange Street,” ABJ reported, adding that “cooks earned $15 per week, counter girls $12, and chocolate dippers $12.”
In an article dated July 26, 1920, the Akron Evening Times called the Chocolate Shop a “mecca for tired business people who desire some light refreshments,” ABJ reported, adding that “the young people find it quite as delightful for their after-the-matinee refreshments, and all find it most convenient to drop in there in the evening, to spend a few minutes and enjoy the pure, home-made candies and ice cream,” and “when you visit this place you are assured of the best service, together with pleasant surroundings.”
Competition soon popped up in the city from over a dozen similar shops including the Akron Candy Co at 36 E. Market St., Akron Sugar Bowl at 60 S. Howard St., Anastos Bros. Confectionery at 352 S. Main St., Diamond Candy Co. at 448 Bowery St., Olympia Confectionery at 943 E. Market St., and Star Confectionery at 109 S. Main St., ABJ reported.
The Chocolate Shop “suffered a reversal of fortune during an economic depression in 1921 and fell into receivership,” ABJ reported, noting that “the Howard Street shop closed by 1922 and the Main Street location followed in 1923.”
The Greek immigrant entrepreneurs Petrou and Kleines then opened a bowling alley, “the Olympic Recreation Center at Main and Exchange, which operated into the 1960s,” and “also were credited with naming the Hermes Building on East Market Street” after the messenger god, ABJ reported, pointing out that “both men were leaders of Akron’s Greek community, serving as president of Annunciation Greek Orthodox Church and the American Hellenic Educational Progressive Association [AHEPA], and enjoyed successful careers in business.”
Kleines also worked as a real estate agent and “led U.S. war bond drives during World War II,” passing away in 1968 at age 84, while Petrou worked as an insurance agent and “served as president of the International Institute of Akron,” passing away in 1981 at age 87, ABJ reported.