It was a rainy Saturday afternoon inside Baltimore’s Harborplace, where, tucked into a corner between two vacant stores, was a group of teens behind The Fudgery counter belting out tunes, dancing and stirring up sweet hot liquid caramel as an older man carrying a Hooters bag stopped to dance and sing along.
Other than a general lack of customer traffic, the scene betrayed no sense that these were some of the last hours on the job that allowed the workers to sing, dance and eat sweets all day and gave Baltimoreans the ritual of grabbing fudge on their way to an Orioles game.
The Fudgery, the singing fudge shop that opened in 1985 in Harborplace and helped launch the careers of Baltimore R&B bands, will ring its bell one last time at the close of business Sunday. Current and former Fudgery employees will join in a few final songs in observance of its last day of operations.
“This is a very sad day, but it is also a celebration” said Reggie Linnette, a general manager with The Fudgery. Linnette managed the store during some of the Dru Hill days in the mid-1990s, when then-Baltimore City Community College Prep classmates Mark “Sisqo” Andrews, James “Woody” Green, Tamir “Nokio” Ruffin and Larry “Jazz” Anthony worked summer jobs at The Fudgery.
“They would draw huge crowds,” Linnette said, “Probably 50 or 70 people would huddle around the railing.” The quartet practiced their R&B tunes together while serving candy. They developed an audience, competed in local talent shows and later became known as Dru Hill, after the Druid Hill Park neighborhood.
"We'd do these little Fudgery songs and had these little skits we'd do while making fudge for the audience," Nokio told USA Today in 1998 after they became known as one of the hottest R&B male bands.
After that came the two-man Baltimore R&B group Ruff Endz, whose members David "Davinch" Chance and Dante "Chi" Jordan also got a recording contract after singing at The Fudgery, Linnette said.
On Saturday, the more recent candy-makers/singers were getting down to songs like the Temptations’ “My Girl” and Michael Jackson’s “The Way You Make Me Feel,” while substituting some lyrics for “chocolate” or “fudge” as customers gathered round, some recording the workers with their cellphones and a few stopping to purchase candy.
Linnette said workers create “all genres” of songs and practice them constantly. It’s the reason Brianna Allen, 18, of Baltimore applied to work at The Fudgery a year ago. “This experience has taught me so much,” Allen said. “I’ve learned how to connect and reassure my voice with others.”
As she explained what drew her to The Fudgery, the group burst out in song again and she joined in, repeating her manager’s instructions “everybody sing ahhhh ... say oohh” he sang, as they followed suit.
Her manager, Zion Shaw, 19, formerly of Rochester, N.Y., who will be moving to manage a store in Destin, Fla., had mixed feelings about the switch. “We can’t run a store on nothing,” he said, explaining that though they love Harborplace, there was not enough foot traffic. Still, he, like the others, looked on the bright side. “Harbor has given us a great time.”
A.C. Marshall, founder and CEO of the company, said in a statement about the closing: “It has been a particularly painful decision because of its contributions to our company over the past thirty-three years. It was the visibility afforded The Fudgery here that thrust our company into other national markets. Unfortunately, time changes things and there is not enough of our customer base to support a profitable operation.”
It is a move that disappoints a few regular customers who stopped by Saturday afternoon, including Paul Thompson, 52, of Towson, who came down to buy some peanut butter fudge before it closes shop.
“I’m really going to miss it, because it’s such a tradition,” Thompson said. “When I come downtown to see an Orioles game, I come here to watch them sing music. It is going to be so missed.”
Latest Baltimore City
Linnette said he hopes they return to Baltimore one day. In the meantime, those needing a fudge fix can drive to the store in Oxon Hill at the National Harbor’s Tanger Outlets.