Middlebury motel to get sweet makeover

MIDDLEBURY — Finding a piece of candy on your hotel bed is always a nice surprise.
Future guests at the Greystone Motel at 1395 Route 7 South in Middlebury will not only get the pillow chocolate, but also licorice, chewing gum or lemon drops, depending on the room in which they stay.
So pack some extra toothpaste, because Brad and Blanca Jenne, longtime owners of Middlebury Sweets, are closing in on a deal to buy the Greystone Motel and make it the new home of “Vermont’s largest candy store.”
And they plan to keep nine of the motel’s current 11 guest rooms and make them candy-themed for travelers looking for sweet dreams.
“We didn’t think we were going to be motel owners back in January,” Blanca Jenne said on Monday after she’d sent a customer off with a batch of some of the largest chocolate-and-caramel turtles east of Lake Champlain.
“It just worked out that way.”
The Middlebury Development Review Board on Monday gave the Jennes’ proposal a conditional OK. If their purchase and renovation project proceeds according to plan, the “Middlebury Sweets Motel” could be open for business within two or three months.
One of the current motel rooms will be used to accommodate the candy store — which, thanks to ample shelving space, will allow the Jennes to maintain, and potentially increase, their sugary wares.
Jenne said they will convert another room into an office, while the motel kitchen will be outfitted for making chocolate.
The couple will keep their self-storage business at their current Middlebury Sweets property at 12 Ossie Road in East Middlebury. The soon-to-be-vacant sweets store will be used for more storage space. The couple will also keep their U-Haul business off Ossie Road — at least for now, according to Jenne.
Brad Jenne has since 1998 owned the Ossie Road property, at which he has operated the U-Haul and self-storage businesses. The couple in 2007 erected what would become the Middlebury Sweets building, which Blanca Jenne originally used as a scrapbook supplies store — though they made sure to stock it with a small inventory of candy.
She enjoyed that scrapbook business, though it fell on hard times during the 2010 recession. But she noticed that while people were buying fewer scrapbook supplies, their interest in the limited candy offerings remained consistent.
It was about this time, coincidentally, that downtown Middlebury lost a candy store. The Jennes decided they would try to fill that void. In a big way.
“I told my husband, ‘Let’s sell some candy,’” Jenne recalled. “We needed to have a niche, so we decided — because we had a large enough space — to be the largest candy store in Vermont.”
They made a full conversion to candy in 2012, and Blanca Jenne took chocolate making seminars. Their transparent candy cases offer a panoramic view of the unctuous confections.
And it doesn’t stop with chocolates. The store sells more than 1,300 different brands and varieties of candies, from baseball-sized jawbreakers to fluorescent Gummi Bears.
Candy business has been good, but the Jennes believed it could get even better.
“Candy is an impulse buy for a lot of people,” Jenne said. “We’ve advertised well, but the bottom line is we are kind of off the beaten path. We know that the GPS doesn’t always find us, and some people give up. We realized that being on Route 7 would help the business a lot.”
So early this year they began scouting for a higher-profile spot. They came upon the Greystone, and at first considered ending its life as a motel and converting it to candy and self-storage. But the current owners had recently remodeled all the rooms, and the community had already lost the nearby Blue Spruce Motel to a fire. The Jennes decided to join the hospitality industry and began negotiating in May to buy the property.
The Jennes will pack more than their candy for the move to the Greystone. They’ll bring their four colorful parrots, which have provided eye candy for customers who’ve enjoyed viewing them through a glass window at their store. Jenne promised an outside window through which people will be able to see the birds from the parking area.
There are two macaws, an African gray, and a blue crown conure.
“I’ve had my African gray the longest,” Jenne said of her beloved Quincy, a companion of 17 years.
While a candy-themed motel might conjure notions of a gaudy, Willy Wonka-esque explosion of colors and lollypop lawn ornaments, the Jennes promised to fulfill their vision with tasteful restraint. They’ll pick what Jenne said would be a “nice couple of colors” for the exterior of the motel, colors “the town is OK with.”
But when it comes to the rooms, the Jennes will let their imaginations take over. Imagine nine rooms, each with colorful candy cachet. The possibilities are endless.
Jenne is still weighing designs, but said there will probably be a “Licorice Sweet (think suite)” that will have blue and red color schemes and photos of the anise-flavored candy.
There will likely be “gumball” and “chocolate” rooms with their own special touches, including of course samples of the candies for which they are named.
“It’s going to be fun,” Jenne said. “We want to give (the motel) new life.”
The couple will retain the current Greystone employee and keep on their two Middlebury Sweets workers.
Blanca gave a shout-out to her husband, who has helped her pursue her sweet business dreams.
“I always joke that I brought a little sweetness into his life,” she said.
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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