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January 20th, 2009Trading up to smaller digs

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by Gita Sitaramiah

Mary Leonard launched Chocolat Celeste a month after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in a challenging time for businesses, especially new ones.

Now, she’s planning for more challenges as construction of the Central Corridor light rail transit line looms right outside her University Avenue store. She expects the construction to slow customer traffic and sales.

It’s a good problem, as it turns out. Leonard had planned to move her shop eventually to a more upscale location, and this has spurred her to take action now. Her goal is to relocate to Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport, going from 600 feet of retail space to about 150 square feet, something she sees as realistic in a year or two.

“It would be very small,” she said. “It could even be a kiosk.”

The Central Corridor Partnership, an alliance of St. Paul and Midway area business leaders, will be providing financing to help businesses survive construction of the proposed $915 million line connecting the Twin Cities downtowns.

But the thought of taking out a loan to stay put doesn’t appeal to Leonard. Because of the growing interest in premium chocolate, Leonard believes her store would be an excellent fit for the airport and its on-the-go travelers seeking distinctive gifts.

Chocolat Celeste is a premium chocolate maker that sells truffles and toffee at a 600-square-foot St. Paul retail store, on the Internet and directly to corporate clients for customers and to reward staff. These are no Hershey bars. A classic box of nine large truffles goes for $41. A bag of English butter toffee with almonds goes for $20.

Leonard’s lease expires in June, but she doesn’t think a move will be realistic for a year or two. She must also find a new home for the manufacturing end of her business.

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