The Mars Wrigley Company took much of Chicago by surprise when it announced plans last week to close its historic factory in the city’s Galewood neighborhood.
According to its owner, Mars Wrigley Confectionery, the Spanish Revival-designed resort at 2019 N. Oak Park Ave. will stop making M&Ms, Twix, Snickers, Milky Way and other candies in two years. About 280 people work there.
But what also caught our attention: A company spokesperson 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 candy and employing people at this beautiful 1928 facility for another century.
But we’re intrigued by what might happen to the Far West Side complex after production stops.
Chicago as candy country
Confectioner Frank C. Mars, creator of the Milky Way candy bar, moved his business from Minneapolis to Chicago and built the Oak Park Avenue factory.
The complex was built next to rail lines that could ship its product across the continent – a good thing in 1930 when the company introduced one of its best-known products: the Snickers bar.
Mars was part of a large group 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 at a plant at 337 E. Illinois St., while MJ Holloway & Co. produced Milk Duds by the ton at 308 W. Ontario St.
And Cracker Jack, which was shown at the 1893 World’s Fair in Chicago, was made in a factory near 66th Street and Cicero Avenue in the Clearing neighborhood.
Consolidations and mergers would claim many of those original companies, but many of those candies are still being made.
Mars and Chicago chewing gum maker Wrigley merged in 2016, creating Mars Wrigley Confectionery. The company’s global headquarters will remain on Goose Island. And the Burr Ridge and Yorkville plants will remain in operation after the Galewood plant closes, the company said.
A New Future Planned
No one is saying much publicly about what’s next for the Galewood location.
And for the neighborhood, the loss is particularly deep. The company is a good neighbor that distributes candy for Halloween.
“They’ve always been our neighbors to the south,” Mike Sullivan, facility manager at Shriners Children’s Chicago, 2211 N. Oak Park Ave., told a Sun-Times reporter.
“We have always helped each other. … They are like a neighborhood staple,” he said. “It’s sad to see them go.”
For us, all this makes it important for the company to leave behind something of value.
We hear that Mars Wrigley may work with the city to create a request for proposals for the site, using parameters that will be defined by the community.
The open spaces of the complex could be transformed into a public park. And the reborn site could make better use of the nearby Mars stop — what a big name — at 6801 W. Shakespeare on the Metra Milwaukee District West transit line.
The plant is not a protected city landmark, and the upcoming community engagement process may determine whether designation is a possibility.
This is always a big concern when a Chicago business decides to scale back operations or close its doors.
But it’s encouraging — for now, at least — that Mars Wrigley wants to help create new life for the complex rather than cut and run and leave the city with 16 acres abandoned, or a demolished site that would almost have the size of Maggie Daley Park.
We hope the company’s dialogue with the community and city officials goes well over the coming years and leaves Chicago with something that might be different, but just as enjoyable as what exists now.
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