See’s Candies, the Bay Area-based candy chain known for its black-and-white color scheme and generous free sample policy, has temporarily ceased operations, its CEO says, for only the second time in its 98-year history.
See’s shuttered its 200-plus retail locations earlier this month, as cities and counties across the country issued coronavirus-related guidance that shuttered retail spots like malls — where most of its shops are typically located. Until late last week, fans of the company’s wide selection of handmade treats could still order online, but that, too, has now been suspended.
In a message on its website, See’s told online shoppers that “See’s is always focused on bringing joy to our customers. We are very sorry to have to say that sees.com is not taking orders at this time. In recognition of the guidance provided by local health authorities, See’s has suspended production and shipping of product.”
The company also sent an email to customers on March 27, this one signed by CEO Pat Egan. “In our 99-year history, we have had only one interruption in our ability to share our American-made delicious candy, and that was during WWII due to rationing,” the email read. “Given the current events with COVID-19, and our concern for the health and safety of our employees, we have made the decision to initiate an interruption once again.”
Unlike many California operations forced to temporarily close during the crisis, See’s has a powerful foundation: Founded in 1921 by Charles A. See, the company opened its famous candy kitchen at the corner of Market and Valencia streets in San Francisco in 1940. Since 1972, the company has been part of famed billionaire financier Warren Buffett’s portfolio at his massive conglomerate, Berkshire Hathaway.
In past years, the San Francisco Business Times reports, See’s has generated “more than $2 billion in pretax income” that Berkshire used to buy other businesses. “Just as Adam and Eve kick-started an activity that led to 6 billion humans,” Buffett told shareholders in 2012, “See’s has given birth to multiple new streams of cash for us.”
These days, though, See’s isn’t giving birth to anything, and its workforce (about 1,500 strong, the LA Times reported in 2017) is at home like everyone else. That’s also where most of the (1,300 plus, as of publication time) comments on See’s most recent Facebook post, asking fans to share their fondest memories of the company candy, were likely written. “I will never not be a fan of See’s,” read one. “I’ll be lining for some marzipan and Bordeaux when you are ready to open again. Thank you for doing the right thing.”