Lease frustrations force family business out

Leslie Silverman

An iconic Keystone tradition will soon close its doors and move to a new location. The Rushmore Mountain Taffy shop has been located in Keystone since 1967. The shop has been visited by people from all over the world and is known for its homemade, on-site taffy that comes in a wide variety of flavors.
Celebrities such as Dallas Cowboys legend Tony Dorsett and television host Bill O’Reilly have walked through the doors of the shop to sample its sweet treats. Sen. Mike Rounds is a very good customer, visiting the shop often, according to the Stverak family, who bought the store in 1980. Celebrities aside, it is the repeat customers, locals and  tourists alike, who have made the Rushmore Mountain Taffy shop a Keystone tradition.
The Stveraks are fourth-generation natives of South Dakota. They bought the store when mom,  Kathy, was working as a dietitian in the hospital. One of her closest friends, who was a nurse at the time, owned the shop and wanted to sell it.
“We just decided it looked like a good business opportunity,”  Kathy said, although she did keep working at the hospital up until her retirement. Her son Jeff now owns the soon-to-be relocated Keystone location. In I994 the family opened a second location in Medora, N.D., which sister Anita owns and operates.
Medora is a  tiny tourist town similar to Keystone, although the family says businesses there are still community focused.
“It’s just different now,” said Anita about Keystone. “We used to know everybody. Everybody knew everybody when we first came here. That’s how things still are at the Taffy Shop’s other location in Medora. That’s still a community. We help each other out. After the blizzard we dug each other out.”
The changes in Keystone’s business community are exactly why the shop is being forced to relocate.
The building the shop is located in was sold to an East Coast entity shrouded in a bit of mystery. Numerous attempts to contact the new owners for comment were unreturned. The  Stveraks themselves were told about the building sale via phone and all attempts to renegotiate their lease options were also done electronically.
Although sources say the new owners have an employee representative locally, it is unclear if the new owners have ever stepped foot in Keystone. What is clear, however, is that the Stveraks and the new owner could not come to terms on a lease agreement.
“What they wanted and what we wanted we were way off, “ said Jeff.
While not disclosing the details of the lease presented, Jeff did say one condition new owners wanted was for the Stveraks to begin to pay the property taxes on the building.
According to the  Stveraks, negotiations never took place face-to-face.
“I feel like I lost a family member,” says Anita about the store. “We’ve been here for 42 years.”
As a child, Anita  remembers visiting the taffy shop, prior to her family owning it.
“Mom would run into the store and pick out the candy. We didn’t get to pick out our own candy,” she said.
 That was when the taffy shop only had 12 flavors. Now it has anywhere from 36-38. During the rally it has  special flavors for bikers. During Christmas it has an eggnog variety. One of the most popular flavors is the sugar cookie, which tastes just like sugar cookies. Jeff didn’t hesitate to share his favorite, which is choco-mint. Neither did Anita, who loves strawberry cheesecake, although she does admit she twists it with a plain piece of chocolate to give it an extra flair.
Many customers return year after year and come in for the same flavors. Jeff recalls sending 125 pounds of taffy overseas to military personnel who needed a taste of home. More recently a customer came in and bought a bunch of the Cinco de Mayo Margarita flavors for patients she works with at an alcohol detox facility in the region.
Last summer the shop had a fourth generation family come to visit.
“Their littles were here watching the taffy machine,”  Anita says with a smile.
The family has so many stories—almost too many to share, they say. They know that between Memorial Day and Labor Day they make new friends each and every year.
Anita wants customers to know “that things you experienced in a lifetime coming to our candy store you’ll experience again in our new location.”
The family has found a new location for the store, although without a lease in hand yet is not ready to disclose it. Kathy described the location as “happy.”
The move itself will be daunting. As a small business the family knows “if you’re not open you’re not making money.”
Anita says, “we just have to do it. You just do it then you’re allowed to grieve that’s what you have to do.”
The family estimates the move will likely take place in the next three to four weeks or as soon as possible.
They ask for loyal customers to look for ads regarding the relocation. Jeff says, “be patient we will be open again.”
In the meantime their taffy is always available for purchase online or at their Medora location.


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