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Sweet­hearts will be back even­tually, Spangler says. Pexels

This Valentine’s Day, stores around the nation are all out of Sweet­hearts — the popular heart-shaped, message-car­rying candy that has sweetened the holiday since the turn of the 20th century.

After Necco’s candy factory went out of business last year, the company sold Sweet­hearts to Spangler Candy Company in Bryan, Ohio, about a 45-minute drive from Hillsdale. Spangler, best known for its Dum Dums Lol­lipops, was unable to ramp up Sweet­heart pro­duction in time for this year’s Valentine’s shoppers, but says the brand will return at a future time.

By the time the factory closed in July, it took 11 months of pro­duction at 100,000 pounds a day to make 8 billion Sweet­hearts for Valentine’s Day every year. Before its closing, con­ver­sation hearts were the most-pur­chased Valentine’s candy of 2017 and 2018, according to candystore.com.

Founded in 1901, Necco was known not only for Sweet­hearts, but also for its Wafers (which Spangler also acquired), col­orful, sugary discs that have been made the same ways since 1847, making them America’s oldest con­tin­u­ously-man­u­fac­tured candy.

Alexandra Brock, manager at Small Town Sweet Bou­tique, said she misses Sweet­hearts, as well as Necco’s Wafers, which she was hoping to have around Christmas time this past year.

“They’ve been around since the Civil War so I’m really sad to see them go out,” she said.

The bou­tique has been selling several other ver­sions of the con­ver­sation heart — Brach’s Con­ver­sation Hearts, Smarties Love Hearts, and Sweet Tart Hearts — but Brock says for many of her cus­tomers, the other brands aren’t quite the same.

“A lot of it has to do with nos­talgia. It’s the one they grew up with, it’s the oldest, it’s classic,” she said. “And it tastes good too. The taste is not for everybody, but I think that has a lot to do with it.”

At least one to two people per week visit the store asking about Necco Wafers, and more recently, about the Sweet­hearts. Though it’s not in stock this year, Brock said cus­tomers are glad to hear it’s in Spangler’s hands. “Espe­cially because people know Spangler around here, it’s a sigh of relief to them to hear that.”

Around Christmas time, Small Town Sweet Bou­tique also buys Dum Dums and large candy canes from Spangler through dis­trib­utors.

It is uncertain when Sweet­hearts will be back on the market. In a Sep­tember press release, CEO Kirk Vashaw said the company would relaunch the brand for the 2020 Valentine’s Day season, but that release was later taken down. According to Vashaw in the earlier release, “There are a lot of man­u­fac­turing chal­lenges and unan­swered ques­tions at this point, and we want to make sure these brands meet con­sumer expec­ta­tions when they re-enter the market.”

Several cus­tomers nationwide have been acquiring Sweet­hearts off the black market, the Wall Street Journal reported. Some of Brock’s cus­tomers also say they have pur­chased the candy online, but found them to be “rock-hard,” since the last batch pro­duced was last year.

Other heart candy brands have been flying off the shelves in Hillsdale. As of Tuesday morning, Small Town Sweet Bou­tique still had a few packages of Brach’s Con­ver­sation Hearts, while other stores in Hillsdale have run out com­pletely. The Jonesville Walmart sold out of con­ver­sation hearts last week, and Market House sold out just a couple days ago.

Brach’s Con­ver­sation Hearts, which have been around since the 1960s, dis­tin­guishes itself from Sweet­hearts as a brand by adding newer col­lo­qui­alisms in its mes­sages, such as “TTYL” (Talk To You Later) and “LYMY” (Love You Miss You).

Though Sweet­hearts weren’t on the public market until 1902, Necco sold them by special order for wed­dings starting in 1866.

Director of Spangler Cor­porate Com­mu­ni­ca­tions Diana Eschhofen declined to comment on the future of the Sweet­hearts brand — whether colors, flavors, and mes­sages will stay the same, or whether they will be available for Valentine’s Day in 2020. Spangler did send out a release last month, however, in the form of a “three-heart response to Sweet­heart fans.”

“Miss U 2,” “Wait 4 Me,” “Back Soon.”