Cero's Candies, a 125-year-old Wichita business, is looking for a new owner. The candy company, started in 1885, is owned by the Mental Health Association of South Central Kansas, which bought it from the Cero family in 2000.
The nonprofit association has used the business to train and employ those with severe and persistent mental illnesses.
But area employers are more willing to hire those with mental illnesses now, said Cero's general manager Marni Eickelman, and the association has decided to focus its resources and expertise "on direct mental health treatment, prevention and advocacy services."
Eickelman said the association's goal is to sell Cero's, but it plans regardless to be out of the business by the end of the year.
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"It's a business that's been around a long time," she said. "Hopefully, someone will step forward, want to carry on the tradition."
The Mental Health Association moved Cero's from Kellogg to leased space at 1108 E. Douglas in 2001. Cero's has worked in recent years to "focus and tap into the corporate business, and that has really helped" sales, she said.
Cero's has four employees in addition to Eickelman. The business usually downsizes in summer because "chocolate's so temperamental," then gears up again as the holidays approach.
Eickelman said 92 clients of the association have worked at Cero's since 2000. Three are employed there now. The association will help them find other jobs.
The business was started by "Candy Pete" Cero, a Greek merchant marine who was lured to Wichita for railroad work in 1883. The crew left him behind when he became ill, and he turned to candy-making to make money.
Ed Cero sold the business when no family members wanted to take it over.
Eickelman said the Mental Health Association is "very proud of the experience we've had" and grateful to the community for its support. But the association needs "to focus on the direct care services."
"We're very, very sad and really regret having to announce this, because it is such a wonderful experience and such a great product," she said. "It would be nice if someone would come forward" to buy it.