With some creative thinking, the Mars candy factory closing could have a sweet aftertaste
It’s intriguing to think about what might happen to the Far West Side complex after production stops.
The Mars Wrigley company caught much of Chicago by surprise when it announced plans last week to close its historic plant in the city’s Galewood neighborhood.
The Spanish Revival-designed complex at 2019 N. Oak Park Ave. will stop churning out M&Ms, Twix, Snickers, Milky Way and other candies in two years, according to its owner, Mars Wrigley Confectionery. About 280 people work there.
But what also caught our eye: A company spokesman said Mars Wrigley “intends to partner with the surrounding community on a future vision for the site.”
Frankly, we wish Mars Wrigley would continue making sweets and employing people in that handsome 1928 facility for another century.
But we are intrigued by what might happen to the Far West Side complex after production stops.
Chicago as candyland
Confectioner Frank C. Mars, creator of the Milky Way chocolate bar, moved his company from Minneapolis to Chicago and built the Oak Park Avenue factory.
The complex was constructed next to rail lines that could ship his product across the continent — a good thing by 1930 when the company introduced one of its best-known products: the Snickers bar.
Mars was part of a large cluster of candy makers and confectioners that made Chicago a candy capital of the world during the 20th century. The long list included Fannie May, Brach’s, Frango mints, Ferrera Pan and Tootsie Rolls.
Curtiss Candy Company made its Baby Ruth bar in a factory at 337 E. Illinois St., while M.J. Holloway & Co., produced Milk Duds by the ton at 308 W. Ontario St.
And Cracker Jack, which was introduced during Chicago’s 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition, was made in a factory near 66th Street and Cicero Avenue in the Clearing neighborhood.
Consolidations and mergers would claim many of these original companies, but many of those candies are still being made.
Mars and Chicago chewing gum-maker Wrigley merged in 2016, creating the Mars Wrigley Confectionery. The company’s global headquarters will remain on Goose Island. And plants in Burr Ridge and Yorkville will stay in business after the Galewood facility closes, the company said.
A new future planned
No one’s saying much publicly about what’s next for the Galewood location.
And for the neighborhood, the loss is especially deep. The company is a good neighbor that hands out candy for Halloween.
“They’ve been our neighbors to the south forever,” Mike Sullivan, director of facilities at Shriners Children’s Chicago, 2211 N. Oak Park Ave., told a Sun-Times reporter.
“We’ve always helped each other out. … They are like a staple for the neighborhood,” he said. “It is sad to see them leave.”
To us, all of this makes it important for the company to leave behind something of value.
We hear Mars Wrigley might work with the city to create a request-for-proposals for the site, using parameters that will be set by the community.
The complex’s open spaces could be refashioned into a public park. And the reborn site could make better use of the nearby Mars stop — what a great name — at 6801 W. Shakespeare on the Metra Milwaukee District West transit line.
The factory isn’t a protected city landmark, and the upcoming community engagement process might investigate if a designation is a possibility.
It’s always a deep concern when any Chicago business decides to cut back operations or close its doors.
But it’s encouraging — for now, at least — that Mars Wrigley wants to help create a new life for the complex rather than cut and run and leave the city with 16 abandoned acres, or a demolished site that would be almost the size of Maggie Daley Park.
We hope the company’s dialogue with the community and city officials goes well over the years to come and leaves Chicago with something that might be different, but just as sweet as what’s there now.
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