'We didn’t want to pull out anywhere, but we have to start trying to rebuild if we are ever going get through this.'
Christina Dove did her best, but even over the phone, her emotions couldn’t be completely blanketed.
“You try to make decisions with your head, but it’s tough when your heart is breaking at the same time,” admitted Dove, who along with her husband Brent Smith owns the Newfoundland Chocolate Company.
Late Monday, the St. John’s-based firm announced the permanent closure of its Nova Scotia operations with the shuttering of three Halifax-area stores.
The move was made as the company works to recover from the combination that began with a sharp jab from a winter storm followed by the haymaker that is the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We’ve been struggling with this, because the business means so much to us, we’ve put so much into it,” said Dove, “but financially, it is so difficult right now with the way COVID has hit us just after we began to emerge from Snowmageddon here in Newfoundland.
“Nobody could have predicted it would have lasted this long.”
As a result, Dove and Smith are consolidating their business, which has five locations in St. John’s and one each in Gander and Corner Brook.
“We didn’t want to pull out anywhere, but we have to start trying to rebuild if we are ever going get through this. That means we are going to have to begin that rebuild where we started, in Newfoundland,” said Dove.
One reason is proximity to the company factory, which set up in an expanded operation on Torbay Road in St. John’s last fall. The associated store there has been offering curbside service and the company has provided free delivery and shipping of its products, but all the other stores have been completely closed since mid-March, leading to more than a hundred layoffs.
The plan is to fully re-open the Torbay Road operation, which also incorporates a café, and to resume business at locations in the Avalon Mall and on Duckworth Street in downtown St. John’s early next month. That’s when provincial pandemic restrictions are expected to relax their hold on the retail sector.
However, there is less certainty about stores at the St. John’s International Airport and on Signal Hill, since there are additional issues to consider.
In the case of the latter, that would be if and when Parks Canada reopens the Signal Hill Historic site and visitors centre, which houses the chocolate company’s café.
In Halifax, where it has had a presence for five years, Newfoundland Chocolate Company stores are being closed at the Sunnyside and Mic Mac malls and the Halifax Shopping Centre.
“It’s difficult right now, thinking about our employees and our customers there, the charities we’ve worked with in Nova Scotia and will still work with, just in smaller ways,” said Dove.
The company, which saw its first chocolates produced in the basement of Smith and Dove’s home 12 years ago, still has wholesale partners coast to coast.
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And Dove said the decision to leave Nova Scotia now doesn’t mean they won’t ever be back again.
“My God, we’d love to, first of all because we were so welcomed there and also because being this was the start of the plan to bring Newfoundland elsewhere in the form of chocolate. We’ve always wanted to continue with more stores in Canada,” she said. “We just can’t do that now.”
The announcement of the closures was made on the company’s Facebook site.
“At first, I was worried about the reaction,” said Dove. “There was a feeling we had let down Nova Scotia and that we let down Newfoundland, too, because we always feel like we are representing this province in what we do.
“But people have been so good, so supportive in their responses. I really shouldn’t be surprised, knowing what people are like in both places.
“But it’s still nice to read, nice to hear. We can use that right now.”