After 30 years Beckles owner says farewell to downtown Modesto candy shop
Chocolate is a sweet treat for any occasion, even the bittersweet ones. And nobody knows that better than longtime Modesto chocolate maker Eddi Marie Julian.
The 78-year-old owner of Beckles Candies & Gifts is closing her shop at the end of June after more than 30 years in business. Julian still hand makes many of the shop’s candy concoctions, from chocolate turtles and haystacks to the shop’s signature fudge. Over the years, the old-school downtown Modesto candy shop also started selling cards and other gift and seasonal items.
But now — after 33 years, two names and two locations — the shop will shutter. Julian said a combination of factors led to her decision. Her husband, Jim, passed away four years ago. Changing traffic patterns in downtown Modesto also made the business harder to maintain. And the building’s out-of-town landlords sometimes have been challenging to work with, she said.
“I needed to come out from something,” Julian said standing inside her cozy store. “Really, I need to reorganize myself and unravel a bit.”
Julian and her husband, who worked for 28 years for the Tracy Defense Logistics Agency and then served as pastor at Modesto’s Herald General Baptist Church, bought the business in 1988. Before that, the Julian family often hit the road during summer in its traveling singing ministry group, The Heralds — and you can still pick up one of its old LPs in the store.
Previous owners John and Becky Shiro had purchased the shop earlier that same year from original owner Vivian McNulty, who opened the shop on I Street in 1986 under its original name Ruffles. But a copyright dispute with the potato chip brand forced the name to change, so after the sale they used Becky Shiro’s nickname, “Beckles,” instead.
Eddi Marie had been teaching at area junior and high schools both full time and as a substitute for close to 20 years before starting Beckles. She was still teaching when in December of 1988 she began working at the store full time.
“I didn’t know much about chocolate except for fun,” Eddie Marie said. She would make simple chocolates, like molds and haystacks, at home with her children or at Sunday school. “I just played with it, mostly.”
She inherited the candy shop’s fudge-making machine, and then began experimenting with her own recipes and flavor combinations. In 2005, the shop was forced to moved from its original I Street location, across from the Stanislaus County Courthouse, to its current spot on 10th Street next to the Thailand Restaurant in Suite 16, or “Sweet 16” as Eddie Marie likes to call it.
What has kept her making chocolates and selling candies for three decades has always been the people.
“It has been our utmost joy to be part of the downtown community. To have wonderful friends and customers,” she said. “We have seen people generationally — families coming in with little ones who grew up to have their own little ones and maybe even their grandchildren coming in to see us at Beckles.”
Many of the chocolate delights in Beckles are made in the shop by Eddi Marie, including favorites like nut-cluster turtles, chocolate haystacks, rocky road, fudge and various flavors of barks. Other truffles and specialty chocolates she has sourced from high-end chocolate makers in California and as far away as Pennsylvania. The shop was also known for its wide selection of Jelly Belly candies.
Eddi Marie said she will continue making her homemade chocolates up until the shop’s last day, June 29, if there is customer demand. In the meantime, she is selling off all the store’s merchandise, fixtures, shelving, jars, vases and the rest.
She said she would still love to find a buyer for the Beckles name, so if you’re an aspiring Willie Wonka, be sure to reach out to the shop before it closes.
While she is retiring from the shop and professional chocolate making, Eddie Marie said she plans to continue making treats for family and friends — not to mention her five grandkids. She also plans to go back to her other passion, teaching piano. And she will continue to be active in her church and on the board of directors for the General Baptist-affiliated Oakland City University in her home state of Indiana.
“I’m sure people will still call me for chocolates,” she said. “And really, doing this all these years has almost been an extension of our ministry, to some degree. (Chocolate) makes people feel good, either as a gift to themselves or for someone else. It’s usually a happy event.”
Beckles Candies & Gifts, at 950 10th St., Suite 16, is open 8:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. weekdays, with some special hours on Saturdays. Its last business day will be June 29. For more information, call 209-523-1818 or visit Beckles Candies & Gifts on Facebook.