Prose, poises and a box of confections have been the traditional St. Valentine’s Day gift for generations. Luckily for the local beau or suitor, Napa had a number of candy stores.
One of the first local candy stores was located on Main Street in Napa. The proprietor had an appropriate last name for his chosen career, J.J. Sweet. The full name of the confection shop was J.J. Sweet’s Gay Ninety Candy Store. Established in the late 1800s, Sweet’s was lined with extra large display jars filled with an array of sugary delights. He also devoted half of his marble-topped counters to cases overflowing with a wide range of chocolates, such as dipped nuts, chews and creams.
Another local candy-maker was Jasper Partrick who opened his confection shop in 1896. Jasper was a native son born in Napa in 1860. The Partrick family would eventually become the local purveyor of sweets for most of the 1900s. Although there were intermittent closures of the business, three generations of the Partrick family devoted their professional lives to satisfying the local sweet-tooth. But this family owes its legacy to a traveling salesman. According to various historical accounts, Jasper Partrick learned his delectable trade from a transient salesman-candy-maker.
Once in business, one of Jasper’s first specialties was taffy. As a way to entice Napans to buy his candy, Jasper brought his candy to them. He would bring a big rope of his taffy out in front of his First Street shop and hang it from the hook under the awning. Jasper would proceed to entertain the passers-by with a good-old-fashioned taffy pull. Then, when the taffy was satiny and smooth, he would cut it into morsels. By that time the audience was ready to enjoy some taffy. As a result, Jasper rarely had a problem selling all of his taffy.
As time went along, Jasper trained his two sons, Earl and Elmer, in the confectionery arts. In a relatively short time the two younger Partricks mastered candy-making. However, by this time Jasper was beginning to lose interest in the candy business. He would eventually close his shop to pursue a political career. Jasper served the community as a Napa County supervisor. He also went on to become the first president of the California Supervisors Association.
Following the closure of the first Partrick’s candy store, Elmer moved to Walla Walla, Washington and opened a candy shop there in 1910. Earl remained in Napa. He farmed the family ranch at the end of Partrick Road as well as his own property on Redwood Road. Whenever possible, Earl revived his confection skills to create homemade candy for his family, especially at Christmas time.
Another 20 years would pass before the Partrick name would become synonymous again with candy. In 1930, Earl and Elmer decided to resume commercial candy-making. They traveled throughout the western U.S. searching for the perfect production site. In the end, they chose a place near home: Vallejo.
This partnership between Earl and Elmer lasted only two years. In 1932 Elmer sold his share of the candy business to Earl in order to open a confection shop in Palo Alto. But Earl was not concerned about keeping the Vallejo store going as his son Roy was proving to be an excellent candy-maker. Roy entered the family business following his 1930 graduation from Napa High School. Self-described as a third generation “sugar head,” Roy became Earl’s business partner in 1936.
The next few years brought Earl and Roy Partrick considerable success. Then World War II commenced, bringing rationing and Roy’s departure to serve in the Air Force. In addition to the scarcity of sugar, other confectionery ingredients, such as chocolate and nuts, were hard to come by. So, Earl closed the Vallejo store and returned to farming full-time. Although, he did continue making candy at home for family and friends.
The story of local confectioners will continue next week. Until then, have a sweet and happy St. Valentine’s Day!