John Glaser has what some might call an ironic life.
The owner of Stutz Candies in Hatboro, Glaser has poured more than 60 years of his life into making sweets to fill the foil hearts of candy boxes - and the hearts of lovers. Yet, at age 70, Glaser, of Willow Grove, is still a bachelor in every sense of the word.
“I used to work 100 hours a week,” Glaser says from his Hatboro store, amid row after row of fancy white and chocolate covered pretzels and shiny pink and red hearts brimming with sweet treats. “I never married. I’m married to the business.”
Despite never marrying, Glaser feels the love every Valentine’s Day as customers flock to his two local stores - in Hatboro and Warrington - to buy up the chocolate treasures made in his Hatboro facility. In all, Glaser says Valentine’s Day accounts for roughly 8 percent of his business and he expects to sell 10,000 pounds of candy.
“Valentine’s Day has the higher sales because of the fancy hearts,” he says, noting that although his store starts stocking the Valentine’s Day faves in January, customers tend to wait until the last minute. “On February 11, 90 percent of the hearts still aren’t sold. The last two days, 60 percent of the hearts still aren’t sold. February 13, in dollars and cents, for the last eight years, has always come out on top.”
According to the Nielsen Company, during Valentine’s week, consumers generally buy more than 58 million pounds of chocolate candy, totaling $345 million in candy sales and amounting to 5.1 percent of annual sales nationwide.
Sales are something Glaser knows much about. He jokes that he “always had dollar signs” in sight. Glaser recalls with amazing accuracy memories from his early childhood, reciting exact dates and offering precise details.
At just 4 years old, Glaser, the then new owner of a wagon, remembers walking around the Logan section of Philadelphia with his mother or sister collecting newspapers that his neighbors had put out with the trash. Over weeks and months he would amass a large collection of unwanted papers, which he would trade in for about $8.
Glaser’s early entrepreneurial spirit would pay off, when, a few years later, his father and uncles bought into the candy business. A fourth-generation candy maker, Glaser has been sole owner of the Hatboro-based Stutz Candies since 1965. His cousins still own the shore’s salt water taffy companies: Fralinger’s, James’ and Shriver’s. Glaser said his father and three uncles bought the Atlantic City, N.J. businesses when he was 7 – and put him to work the day after Labor Day.
“I was counting $12,000 when I was 7 years old,” says Glaser. “I was basically born into the business.”
And the business has remained his life ever since. Practically every memory Glaser shares – and he has many – either begins, ends, or fully encompasses his history in the candy business.
“I was actually making candy in the candy kitchen (at Dairy Maid) when Kennedy got assassinated,” Glaser says of “coal candy,” a hard licorice candy no longer made. “It looked exactly like black coal. Pennsylvania was a big coal state then. Back in those days, many, many houses had coal.”
Like Glaser, Kathryn Silcott, 91, of Glenside, has made a lifetime of creating candy. Silcott has been working in various candy manufacturing businesses since she was 16. She’s worked for Glaser at Stutz Candies since 1976 and currently works three eight-hour days per week making half-dipped cashews, dipping marshmallows and coating peanut butter eggs by hand.
“I get along with him. He’s good,” Silcott says, adding that Glaser has always led by example. “John used to tell us how to do it. He’d make a sample for me and I’d follow his sample.”
As far as sampling the sweets of his labor, Glaser says vanilla caramels, coconut clusters and chocolate-covered pretzels are the ones he takes home to savor. Yet, despite living, breathing and, of course smelling, butter creams, truffles, caramels, fudge and the like for practically his whole life, Glaser has what some would call a bit of an aversion to candy. In short, he’s diabetic.
“I used to be 250 pounds,” says a much slimmer Glaser. “I drank 2 liters of soda a day.”
Then, in December 1984, he woke up and couldn’t see. His blood sugar was through the roof. Realizing he needed to make a change, Glaser swore off soda – at least the non-diet variety. By the end of 1985 he was down to 214 pounds.
“I’m not a good diabetic patient,” Glaser admits. “I still eat ice cream, cookies, candy.”