By Davis McCool, Special to the Citizen
The bustling Oxford Square can make or break a small business, and beloved ice cream and candy shop Holli’s Sweet Tooth is no exception to its madness.<>
Holli’s nine-year legacy as the sweets capital of the Square will officially come to a close following this year’s annual Double Decker Festival.
Store owner Holli Ratcliffe announced on Feb. 13 that due to increasingly high costs, her store did not renew its three-year-lease, and that it will officially run out at the end of April.
“(Closing) started becoming a reality this past October. I tried some last minute hopes to try and make some things happen before the new year, which didn’t work out,” she said. “So I realized that it was time to make it official, and I told my manager and my employees in early January, and it kind of came out to the public around Valentine’s Day.”
Ratcliffe attributes the decision to the growing cost of her sweets, as well as the price of downtown rent.
“It’s been a little over a year now that a lot of our costs have gone up,” Ratcliffe said. “All of our candies and chocolate prices have gone up, and the price of milk has gone up tremendously and Blue Bell ice cream’s absence raised our costs as well.”
She did, however, debunk the rumor that her leasing price was the sole cause, saying in a Facebook post, “There are many rumors about my landlord being the cause, let me say… my rent is not unreasonably high compared to downtown prices.”
“Each time I’ve renewed a lease, it’s gone up,” Ratcliffe continued. “That’s not uncommon, especially on the Square, so I’m definitely not blaming the owner. As the popularity of this area goes up, so do the prices. With a small candy store, your margins are already small, and so you just have to be very careful about watching prices.”
Although April 24 will mark the end of Holli’s Sweet Tooth on the square, Ratcliffe has not given up all hope, as moving the business elsewhere is still a possibility.
“Currently, there is nothing certain,” Ratcliffe said. There have been some opportunities that haven’t worked out, but there are still more routes that we are considering. There are people that I still have to call, and there are places I have to visit. It’s not as easy as moving to a place with lower rent, because we still have to account for the raising input prices.”
Ratcliffe described her emotions regarding the close as “bittersweet.”
“It’s been a run of reflection over the past nine years,” Ratcliffe said. “I had a business model that I thought could work, and Oxford really embraced us, and brought us to a level that I couldn’t have imagined. They were all so supportive, and I have the best memories. The hardest part is thinking back at how many lives we have touched with something sweet - and not just in a product, in an atmosphere.”
Holli’s originally opened in December 2006, as a one-of-a-kind candy and ice cream joint on the Square that was new to Oxonians and dessert lovers alike.
“There wasn’t as many sweet shops when we opened,” Ratcliffe said. “Even across the town, we were really one of the only ones. For Holli’s in particular, I think that we were really the first of our kind.”
Although the square can be tough to aspiring business owners, Ratcliffe braved the challenge and remained steadfast for nine years.
“I knew of the risk, because I had worked at two restaurants on the square before,” Ratcliffe said. “I knew one of the biggest risks was rent, and when I decided to open a candy store, I took that into consideration. It’s always been three components in one here. We have ice cream, candy, and we also offer birthday parties. I really felt that we could overcome financial problem and I really tried to think outside the box to get past those problems.”
She claimed that she never saw closing her business a possibility until financial instabilities finally proved her better.
“I have to be a realist, I know that small business don’t always last forever, but I was always optimistic about the support and the growth that we went through,” Ratcliffe said. “I had hoped that we would be here longer than we have been. I saw Holli’s lasting at least 20 years, and I did not hope nor think that this day would come so soon.”
She admitted that the possibility of raising prices prices to alleviate the pressure of closing quickly became out of the question.
“I’ve been approached about just raising prices, and my answer to that is no,” Ratcliffe said. “I couldn’t do that to my customers, and I don’t want to be at a price that I am not ethically comfortable with selling.”
Although her employees will be left jobless if the store does not find a new location, they will not be left on their own.
“They’re helping us find jobs, so we’re not just going to be left out to fend for ourselves,” Oxford High School junior Spencer Patton said. “We’re all going to have something to do come closing time.”
Employees and customers alike have experienced the grace from Ratcliffe and her managerial staff throughout the years.
“It’s been great,” Patton said. “The staff could not be better. My manager and my boss are both awesome people and I have great respect for both of them. You couldn’t ask for anyone better to run the place. The store has just been so integral to the community.”
Though the future of Holli’s Sweet Tooth is in the air, one thing is certain — come Double Decker, the downtown hotspot for sweets will be greatly missed.
“Even if we find a new spot or we are at the end of our road, we can look back and count our successes and know the joy in that,” Ratcliffe said. “Even though a new chapter is about to begin, we are staying positive.”