Deskins Candies

Our HistorySweet

An older local citizen who has spent most of his or her life in Mercer County is apt to identify the City of Bluefield as being a railroad town. Or perhaps a coal town.

To borrow an hilariously astute turn of phrase from a basketball coach I know: “That stuff is true. But that’s all historical. It’s not futuristic.”

Perhaps the faint outines of Bluefield’s future can be detected in the present. For increasing numbers of young adults — even those who aren’t from here — Bluefield, West Virginia is the place where Deskins Candies are made.

Bluefield Daily Telegraph photographer Jessica Nuzzo is a case in point. She recently explained that Deskins Candies were a familiar household product when Nuzzo was growing up in High Point, N.C. It was a brand her family trusted, a treat that evoked all the positives one would expect to associate with memories that are literally sweet.

Deskins Candies has been around for 23 years — a little bit longer than Jessica. And it’s doing great.

According to owner Bob Deskins, his factory moves at least 300,000 pounds of candy a year. His products are satisfying sweet tooth cravings not only in West Virginia, North Carolina and Virginia, but also as far north as Michigan and as far South as Florida. The hand made, hand-packed confections of Deskins Candies have become quite popular and well-traveled.

“That’s a pretty big number for a little, old company

like us,” said Deskins.

Manager Priscilla Laxton continued to work throughout her interview. The holiday orders hadn’t even really begun, yet there was already an uptick in demand. The shop averages 500 to 600 cases a week. On the day of our visit, orders for no fewer than seven different types of candy were filled over the course of the day. This was going to be an 800 case week.

“We’ve had people buy it and see its from Bluefield. And they’ll call … and want to come and see. It’s stunning because they never knew we had anything like this in the area. We’ve had people come here and they’re blowed away. People still don’t know we exist over here,” Laxton said.

Laxton has been with the company for 10 years. She had no prior commercial kitchen experience when she was hired, but she already knew how to cook. She learned how from her mother. The irony has not been lost on her that the processes of her work day involve skills that most grandmothers, mothers and aunts formerly possessed in abundance. One of the things that makes Deskins Candies so popular is the fact that they are indistinguishable from the home-made confections an exceptional household cook might have made at home 20 or 30 years ago. Deskins products aren’t made

by machines. They’re made by human beings, by hand.

“Times are different than they used to be. Back then, a lot of people stayed in the kitchen, but not any any more. Nobody’s in the kitchen,” Laxton said, laughing. “It’s good for us. If somebody wants any fudge or candy for Christmas, they have to come to us.”

The big difference is the scale. Like, 300,000 pounds worth of difference. It’s an inherently labor-intensive process. Fudge, which seems at first glance to be one of the most basic and simplest of candies, is actually quite tricky and can be among the most physically taxing. Some rather elaborate-looking candies can be, in comparison, less difficult than fudge. But any days’ work at the shop would be considered a hard days’ work by any measure. The Candy Ladies at Deskins Candies are as tough as Rosie the Riveter.

“We should enter the Royal Rumble,” said Laxton, cracking herself up and setting off a cascade of laughter from her female co-workers, each engaged in various phases of production.

“We’ve had people come in here and work a day, and then leave. Or come in and work two hours, and leave. And men … you can’t keep a man in this shop. They just say it’s too much work. They won’t stay,”

Laxton said.

The Deskins name is familiar to many older area residents, chiefly because Bob Deskins is one of the sons of the founders of the Deskins Supermarket chain, which at one time had eight stores in southern West Virginia. For many years Deskins was wedded to the grocery business, just like his father and uncles. Then demographics — and grocery store logistics — shifted against the family firm.

“I was down there for about 40 years and then the (larger chains) started moving in and the population started going down. When I left McDowell County in 1957 the population was about 90,000 people. When I came to Bluefield, it was about 75,000. We closed the Bluefield store first … that was in 1992. The population in McDowell County had dropped to about 40,000 and the population in Bluefield had dropped down to 15,000. With all the competition coming in and the population dropping, then they’d changed the road from in the front of my store to the back — Route 460. That made a big, big difference. So we just couldn’t compete any more,” Deskins said.

Deskins sought a new career, eventually ending up at Starlight Candy Company in Zanesville, Ohio.

The company specialized in mints and other hard candies.

“It was a really good company. I worked for them for about 20 years.

Then 2008 came around and they had a big credit line and the banks called it in and they couldn’t pay it. So they had to go bankrupt. But it was a really good company,” he said.

His experiences there prepared him for new opportunities. While working for Starlight he’d moonlighted on the weekends for two years distributing candy for another company that did not compete with Starlight’s line of products. It was the brainchild of a retired

high school principal, Deskins said, who finally decided he wanted to sell the company. Deskins expressed his interest.

“He was from over in (Wise, Va.) He gave me a week to decide about it. I told him I wanted it, but I was going to move it. He said, ‘I don’t care where you want to move it. It’s your candy company if you want to buy it. So I bought it from him. And we’ve built it pretty good.

I gradually worked myself into Kroger, which is probably one of our better customers. And we got into MDI, which is a grocery supplier for independent grocers out

of Hickory, N.C. I tell everyone, I know the Good Lord was looking after me, because I didn’t have sense enough to do it myself,” Deskins said.

The candy factory’s first location was off Route 52 in Bluewell. The shop has since moved to South Bluefield, where it continues to prosper.


“It’s a bigger facility and a better facility. The loading is better and it’s easy to get to. We moved over here and, I don’t know what caused, it, but business started to increase pretty good,” Deskins said.

November and December are the company’s two biggest months, but average demand stays pretty constant all year round, he said. While demand for the specialized holiday-themed products naturally subsides after Christmas, Deskins said, the company also produces Valentines Day, St. Patrick’s Day and Mother’s Day products augment demand for the other various popular Deskins confections.


1800 Jefferson St, Bluefield, WV 24701

(304) 324-1938

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