- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 14, 2002

HERSHEY, Pa. — Valentine's Day means chocolate and chocolate means Hershey. Home to the No. 1 chocolate manufacturer in the United States, the Pennsylvania town of Hershey tags itself as "The Sweetest Place on Earth."
You can feel the chocolate and the corporation looming everywhere. There's the Hotel Hershey, Hershey Farm, Hershey Gardens, Hershey Lodge, Hershey Museum, Hersheypark and the Penn State Milton S. Hershey Medical Center.
There's even a Hershey Cemetery. It's a 2?-hour drive north from the District that ends up on Chocolate Avenue, which intersects with Cocoa Avenue and boasts its own Chocolate Avenue Professional Center though somehow that can't help but seem an oxymoron.
And if the wind is right, you can catch a whiff of chocolate from the Hershey chocolate manufacturing plant.
"If it's going to rain, you usually smell the chocolate," says Michelle Winter, a Hershey employee. "That and when they roast the peanuts over at Reese's."
Two giant smokestacks and a water tower overlook the chocolate factory. In front of the sprawling buildings, brown shrubbery on a sloping hill has been sculpted to read "Hershey Cocoa." Street lamps are shaped like Hershey's Kisses, alternating between wrapped and unwrapped.

In the spacious visitor center, Hershey's Chocolate World, business is slow. It's raining, and the nearby amusement park, Hersheypark, doesn't open until April. Standing behind a counter, Mrs. Winter points to a row of huge five-pound chocolate bars in a display case.
They're shaped like cherubic cupids, the legend I [INSERT HEART HERE] U, computers, or bulbous double hearts.
For the past 10 years, Mrs. Winter has been squirting names and messages in liquid chocolate on these big bars. Sales, she says, liven up just before Valentine's Day.
Just how many of these bars does she sell for the big day?
"You know what, I can't give you an idea," Mrs. Winter says, her eyes widening. "It's a lot. Like hundreds."
The red-brick Chocolate World building, with its two smokestacks to resemble the factory, devotes most of its floor space to selling the Hershey product:
Rows of Hershey bars in tin replicas of early Hershey canisters.
Chocolate bars that come 36 to a box.
Plastic Hershey-Kiss-shaped keychains with a handful of Hershey's Kisses stuck inside them.
Reese's Hot Wheels toy trucks.
Boxes of chocolate covered pretzels, going two-for-one.
There are T-shirts, bookmarks and ballcaps for sale. Two food courts serve salads, soups, sandwiches and pizza. On the walls everywhere are Hershey's product characters, such as Twizzlers, Reese's Peanut Butter Cups and Hershey bars shaped into characters with big doe eyes, wide smiles and white minstrel gloves. They look disturbingly like Mr. Butts, the Big Tobacco cartoon character in "Doonesbury."
Dennis DeLong, 36, of Hurricane, W. Va., is trying to take it all in. Though his favorite candies are M&M;'s (made by Mars, Hershey's nearest competitor), Mr. DeLong and his two buddies, here for a convention, wander the place as if in a trance. They wonder how much chocolate they'll eat before they get home.
"We were just comparing this to the experience of going into a Cabela's store for a hunter, for an outdoorsman," he says, referring to a Midwest outdoors equipment chain. "You walk into that facility and you're overwhelmed from a sensory perspective. Everything that you see is of interest."
He says, however, that he won't be buying anything here for his wife for Valentine's Day.
"Absolutely not," says Mr. DeLong, married 11 years with three children. "Valentine's Day is not really a holiday in our opinion. We share with one another on a daily basis.
"But when I go out of town, I like to take something nice back. This is a prime opportunity because she's a chocolate addict, not a chocoholic."
What's the difference?
Chocolate addicts, Mr. DeLong says, eat "chocolate for breakfast."

Indeed, chocolate is a cocktail of stimulants: caffeine; anandamide, which produces the same effects as marijuana; theobromine, which stimulates the central nervous system and appetite; the neurotransmitter serotonin; and phenylethylamine, related to amphetamines. People don't just eat chocolate; they have to deal with it.
"I give it up for Lent because I like chocolate so much," Peg Cerquone, 37, of nearby Harrisburg. "So I give it up for 40 days and then I pig out on chocolate and get a massive headache on Easter Sunday."
Her friend, Chris Fricchione, 35, also of Harrisburg, grew up in Hershey. She doesn't like chocolate that much, especially since she worked at Hersheypark.
"You always smelled that smell all the time," says Mrs. Fricchione. "It's nauseating after a while."

The other attraction at Chocolate World is a free ride through "the fast-paced world of chocolate," which shows how chocolate is made. You step on a moving circular track into a little cab that takes you through a tunnel. With jungle sounds in the background, the "world of chocolate" starts you out with the tale of how chocolate begins as a cocoa bean. Enlivened by wacky-voiced narrators and "Love Boat"-type music, the simulated factory tour ride takes the visitor through the roasting of the beans, the milling, the addition of milk and sugar, the mixing, etc. At the end, you get half a KitKat bar.
"You don't get to see any of the actual plant," says Marcie Kienzle, 23, from Detroit, incredulously.
"You don't get to see them actually make chocolate. Everything that's available to you here you can buy in a grocery store. It's slightly discounted but there's nothing unique to this place, there's no reason to have to come here."
Hershey employees say that Chocolate World opened in 1973 because the actual manufacturing plant could no longer handle the volume of tours. It exceeded expectations, becoming the most visited corporate visitor center in the country.
"This started out as a small place that didn't make money, and went to a moneymaking place," says Sandy Myers, 56, an area coordinator at Chocolate World.

Up the hill from Chocolate World is a building with a portico. A sign reads simply "Museum" beneath its gable. The back of the building looks like an airplane hangar. This is the Hershey Museum, dedicated to the life and times of Milton S. Hershey.
Authentic period chocolate-making machinery and re-created displays of candy sales rooms mix with an extensive collection of Hershey's personal effects. Antiques include a 13-foot-tall apostolic clock, built in 1878, that rings hourly with moving figurines of Christ's 12 apostles. There is also an extensive collection of American Indian and Pennsylvania Dutch artifacts, which Hershey collected himself.
Revered here as a near deity, Milton Snavely Hershey was dapper, mustached and by all accounts generous. He came from Mennonite stock in Lancaster County, Pa. During his teens, his mother set him up as a candymaker's apprentice. At 19, he went off on his own to start his own candy business.
He failed across the country in New York, Philadelphia, Chicago and New Orleans. He returned to Lancaster County and began selling caramels blended with milk. By the 1890s, his Lancaster Caramel Company was selling $1 million worth of the confection a year. Hershey's chocolate dipped and chocolate covered caramels sold the best, so he opened the Hershey Chocolate Co. in 1894. He sold the caramel business in 1900 to focus only on chocolate.
Hershey built a factory and set up a town for his employees in 1903, plus a bank, a school, churches, a zoo and golf courses. He built a park for them in 1907 that blossomed into Hersheypark. In 1933, to bring work to townspeople hurt by the Great Depression, he built the 241-room, posh Hotel Hershey. (Its spa has whipped cocoa and chocolate mud baths.)
Hershey gave away his money as fast as he made it. He and his wife Catherine gave $60 million in stock to a trust that built the Milton Hershey School for underprivileged and orphaned children in 1909. The Hershey Trust also is the largest shareholder in the Hershey Foods Corporation.
Yet Hershey was not above autocratic tendencies. When employees staged a sit-down strike in 1937 for higher wages a museum exhibit points this out Hershey stood by while loyal workers and farmers reacted violently. With clubs, baseball bats, lead pipes and ax handles, they beat the strikers and dragged them out of the factory.
"There were numerous injuries," a museum caption reads proudly, "but no deaths."
With a population of roughly 12,000, the town of Hershey is a change of pace from the city and even from suburbia it's slower, cleaner, and unhampered by such inconveniences as rapid transit and shopping malls.
"There is absolutely no night life here whatsoever," says Seth Hollinger, 24, of Hershey. "I know that's something they'd like to change."
Sporting glasses, a goatee and a Palm Pilot, Mr. Hollinger works at GTP (Get The Picture) Corp., which takes instant pictures that visitors can purchase of the Chocolate World ride.

Stray beyond the corporate world of Hershey to get a feel for the town. Drive down East Chocolate Avenue and hit the Hershey Pantry on the left. The small yellow building still displays its Christmas decorations. Glossy ceramic roosters and tea pots line the windows. It's a quiet, intimate place. It doesn't accept credit cards. Signs on the red-clothed tables read, "Come join us at the Hershey Pantry for Valentine Tea."
The food is family style with exquisite soups and healthy sandwiches. Even the grilled cheese sandwich gets raves. Melody Good, 38, of nearby Amville, Pa., is one of the restaurant's managers. She describes Hershey as a "quaint town rich in history." She's not sick of the chocolate, either.
"There's always Hershey's candy in my drawers," she adds. "I never get tired of the smell."
Waitress Michella Montgomery, 29, lived in Hershey but moved to nearby Hummelstown.
"It does get congested in the summer," she says. "Locals get stuck in traffic with the tourists."
She echoes Mr. Hollinger's complaint about nightlife. "It's good for the very young or adults and the elderly," she says. "People come here to get educated and then come back to grow old and die."
As evening falls, a Hersheypark roller coaster looms darkly against the night sky. Across the way is "Parkside," a bar-restaurant that boasts the "best food in town." Walk in and you find a T-shaped bar that dominates the joint. Tables are scattered on the other side. You know the drill: black round barstools, Formica counter, Michelob sign on the wall, Sinatra's "Luck Be a Lady" blaring, and a fog of thick smoke. The very large, aproned chef bursts out of the kitchen to deliver food.
Platinum blond Debbie Keaton, 34, stands behind the bar and muses about her town. Growth is on her mind.
"Schools are more crowded and the graduating classes are a lot bigger," says the mother of four. "And they did away with the old Hershey Drugstore. I don't know why they did that."
Three guys in the corner are smoking cigars. Camillo Gaspers, 74, sips a beer at the bar. He retired from Hershey Foods after 42 years as a supervisor. He has no complaints.
"They treated me good. I had six weeks vacation and five kids under my insurance," he says. "Hershey took care of it all." He pauses. "Now they're trying to make the employees pay some when it was all free before."
Ask him about the factory smell and, perhaps surprisingly, he'll tell you he loves it.
Mrs. Winter, whose father worked for the company for 49 years, laughs almost deviously.
"That's our No. 1 question. How can you get sick of something that tastes so good and something that pays your bills every month?"

WHEN YOU GO:

WHAT: Hershey's Chocolate World
WHERE: 800 Park Boulevard, Hershey, PA 17033
PRICE: Free
INFORMATION: 717/534-4900, HersheysChocolateWorld.com

WHAT: The Hershey Museum
WHERE: 170 West Hersheypark Drive, Hershey, PA 17033
PRICE: $3-$6
INFORMATION: 717/534-3439, www.hersheymuseum.org

WHAT: Hershey Pantry
WHERE: 801 E. Chocolate Ave., Hershey, PA 17033
INFORMATION: 717/533-7505
WHAT: Parkside
WHERE: 3 E. Derry Road, Hershey, PA 17033
INFORMATION: 717/534-1774

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