Gifts from the hill …
Maggie Calpin Hemak is energetic and outgoing, creative and business savvy, and her store, Nibbles & Bits, is a true reflection of her spirit. On a busy Monday morning, we stopped by the gourmet gift basket (and more) shop in the Petersburg section of Scranton, for a cup of coffee, a chocolate-covered strawberry and some good conversation. “I love what I do and I think our customers can see that,” she said. She personally selects every item in the store and truly enjoys working with her customers. She holds a bachelor’s degree in business, human resources and marketing from Keystone College, and prior to buying the store, she was a cosmetologist. This blend of business sense and artistic ability serves her well as she designs gifts in all shapes and sizes, for a wide variety of clients. One of her baskets (actually, it was a gift-filled suitcase) was sent to Martha Stewart as a thank you gift. Among the largest orders she’s filled, the gift was very well received. She was also named Solo-Preneur of the Year (2012) by the Scranton Chamber of Commerce. The days are busy, and fulfilling, for the woman who says she would give up a real meal in favor of candy any day. Meet Maggie Calpin Hemak …
Tell us about Nibbles & Bits.
We’re a customized gift basket store, but we’re not just gift baskets, we do bags and decorative platters. We dress everything up, and we’re known for our bows. We don’t use pull bows; we use a high quality ribbon and we actually have customers who collect our bows. We have over 1,000 items in the store. There’s something for everyone here, whether you’re looking for something healthy or something sweet. We have giftware, coffees, baked goods, and we try to meet every need. We also have diabetic options, gluten-free options, and we do bagel baskets and muffin baskets. We work with our customers, too. If they see some things here, but not everything they want, and they say “well, you really don’t have this one thing I’m looking for …” they can bring it in, and we’ll incorporate that item into the basket. Everything is customized and you can make anything you want here.
When you decided to move out of your Dunmore location, why did you choose East Scranton?
I always loved this corner. It’s very quaint. I thought about what we needed, and parking is something that’s very important. A lot of our customers like to pull up, run in, get their gift and run out. They don’t have time to look for a parking spot or go into a garage. Also, I didn’t want to move too far from our original location because people don’t like change, even a good change. My friend is a realtor and she brought me here. I walked in and said, “This is it.” She turned to me and said, “I get the feeling, too.” I heard rumors that there was a movement to revitalize this area, and I wanted to jump into that. That was another reason I wanted to be here – we’re not by ourselves. We have other small businesses around us that are trying to take an active role in the community. And I must say, this is one of the most welcoming neighborhoods I’ve ever been to. When we moved in here, we had to wait to open for insurance reasons. We were doing online and phone orders only, and it was nice because we go to take our time setting up. Customers would open the door and say, “Welcome to the neighborhood!” and then they’d keep walking. It was so nice. Everyone walks their dogs and waving to each other, saying hello. We have our regulars now, too — all the little kids who come in for penny candy and the parents who come in for the teacher gifts. Everyone is very supportive, which is nice, and we try to be supportive back.
The store looks inviting, too. How did you learn to set up your displays? You need an eye for design to do that.
When I worked at Victoria’s Secret, I loved doing floor sets. And, really, who loves floor sets? No one. (laughs). But I think I inherited this from my mother because she has a really good eye for how to put things together. I try to set things up so there’s a story in each corner of the store.
There’s a lot to see here, but one of the first things we noticed was the tray of chocolate-covered strawberries on the counter. Do you dip the strawberries yourself?
Yes, I do. I learned how to make them from my husband’s friend. He has a restaurant in Philadelphia and he’s a graduate of the CIA (Culinary Institute of America) and he’s very well trained. He taught me how to do strawberries the proper way and make my own chocolate. But I want to take it to the next level, so I’m starting a chocolatier class in May in Lilitz, Pa. It’s a 3-day program where I’ll learn to make ganache and how to enrobe chocolate properly, and tempering, which is key. Burnt chocolate is one of the worst things to taste, smell and clean, and I learned that the hard way with white chocolate, which is very temperamental. I’m excited about this class in May and then I’ll go back in August to learn even more.
We’ll also be going to the national Fancy Food Show in July, which is the largest food show there is. It’s mostly gourmet wholesale vendors. It’s only open to people with resale license and there are over 100,000 vendors so we get to eat samples and take notes and pick out new items. I want to go to even more shows in the future. I want to be different. I want us to expand our lines and not do what everybody else is doing.
What else is new in your world?
We’re developing our website and it will launch any day now. I’ve uploaded every item with professional photos and descriptions. It’s easy and fun to use. You can customize a basket or buy it pre-made online. I’m excited about that launch. We did a pop-up store in Eynon for the Christmas season, and we did well so we’ll be open again in Eynon in November. Last year, we had pre-made items and this year we’ll be offering custom items, too. We had a good response, which was terrific.
Valentine’s Day is next week. What do you recommend for all those who wait until the last minute to pick up something for their sweetheart?
You can never go wrong with the chocolate covered strawberries, the Mrs. Prindable’s apples, or anything chocolate. We have fudge in a cup, truffles, triple chocolate brownies, chocolate covered popcorn. For Valentine’s Day, chocolate is definitely the way to go.
— julie imel
Nibbles & Bits is
located at 1427 Ash St., Scranton (next to Bar Hill). For more information, or to pre-order chocolate covered strawberries, find them on Facebook, visit them at www.nibblesbits.com or call 344-1955.