For many years it was a church.
Years later it is still a cathedral of sorts but now for chocolate lovers.
It’s , a heart-warming place there on the hill at the convergence of River Edge, Kinderkamack Roads and Lincoln Avenue.
Critchley’s first set up shop at that location in 1956 when the , a longtime fixture at that spot, moved into their new quarters on Fifth Avenue.
Fast forward several years into the future and the place continues to be a magnet for the lovers of candy and those looking for a place where business is still transacted on a civilized and personalized level.
These days Steve Engleberg presides. He’s been there for 5-6 years, having bought the place from the Krum family, who themselves were famous for candy-making in the Bronx for generations.
When asked how many owners there have been since the Critchley’s, Engleberg stops the conversation cold with the news that Critchleys never actually owned Critchley’s – or even set foot in the place.
Apparently, according to a story confirmed by a grand-daughter, the original Critchley came to America from England in the 1940’s, settled in Paterson, and according to one version, sold candy there.
According to legend, he never sold candy in River Edge, but he did sell the rights to his name to someone who did. The rest, as they say, is history.
Critchley or no Critchley, the place is full of tradition and nostalgia.
It starts from the candy itself, explains Engleberg. ”It’s all homemade – nothing mass-produced and it’s nothing that you’ll find at supermarket”.
He distinguishes Critchley’s to a Cadbury, which he describes as nothing more than a high-end Hershey bar.
The place is blessed with a loyal customer base as well. Engleberg advertised for a spell, but found that he really did not need to do so (though, of course, he’s always looking for new customers). Critchely’s was able to sell itself – whether it was the candies or the unique setting (In addition to original cathedral ceilings, there are the original church pews which, says Engleberg, are the benches where husbands hang out as their wives shop).
Otherwise, many are drawn to the Mom & Pop aspects of a small business. Still others are drawn out of curiosity – they have passed the place thousands of times traveling up or down Kinderkamack, and just wanted to see what it was about inside.
Once inside they’ll find a full line of homemade candies. By far, Engleberg’s best sellers are the Chocolate covered strawberries. By chance if someone asks for Hershey Kisses, Steve will “yell” at them to get out of his store – he’ll laugh, they’ll laugh, and the Hershey seeker will leave as a satisfied and humored Critchley’s customer.
Critchley’s busiest time is Easter (“As much as Christmas and Valentine’s Day put together”).
June is also a busy time as that is when he puts his stock up for sale at half-price before shutting down for the summer. Steve describes loyal customers who will come in once a year and buy him out of inventory at half-price just to stock them in their freezers, where they will remain as Christmas presents in waiting.
For Valentine’s Day, of course, the heart candies sell well – some 600-700 of them. In various sizes and assortments. But it is the chocolate dipped strawberries that will keep Steve hopping.
They cannot be made far in advance, so he’ll be at it for hours straight through preparing and serving up some 300 pounds of them. It’s a lot of work – from their purchase at the markets to their final sale at the counter. But “it sure beats real work”, says Engleberg, who knows all about that from his 30 years in the Garment District.
Looking ahead, Engleberg sees an end for his era at Critchley’s when he does not have to worry about college tuition any more. Folks come by offering to buy the business. There’s even a guy from Madison by the name of Critchley who is interested. Steve’s not ready yet. But who knows, maybe some time in the future Critchely’s might actually be owned by Critchley for the first time.