By Sharon Chin

SOUTH SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) — A popular Bay Area-based candy company had to close temporarily for only the second time in its 99-year history because of the COVID-19 pandemic. But now it’s finding its new sweet spot.

When the 200-pound Santa figure takes his annual spot atop See’s Candies in South San Francisco, it lifts the spirits of neighbors like Michele Egan.

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“It’s just a sign the holidays are here,” said Egan as she stopped by to watch Santa hoisted to the roof via crane.

And the 99-year-old company hopes its confections will spread some cheer this challenging year.  “It was very hard because that’s unchartered waters,” said CEO Pat Egan, no relation to customer Michele Egan.

Egan explained the COVID-19 lockdown closed all 240-plus stores nationwide for months. From its San Francisco corporate headquarters, the company pulled off a pandemic pivot on a single guiding principle.

“If it doesn’t keep our people safe, if it doesn’t take care of our customers, and if we can’t live with the decision, we’re not going to do it,” Egan said.

See’s had already produced everything for Easter in March so production had stopped but they were left with all the seasonal candy.

Pat called nonprofits serving the elderly and low-income residents.

“So we gave away literally everything and we had to, in part because we don’t add preservatives,” Egan said.

It was the first time See’s shut down since World War II when the lack of quality ingredients limited production.

“It was like a trading desk, come in and get your candy, get out and when the last one was sold, we closed,” said Egan.

This year, See’s survived on online sales and a new no-contact store pick-up option.

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“For several months there, we were at two and three-hundred percent of our year-over-year sales,” Egan said.

In fact, chocolate and candy sales, in general, jumped five percent, according to the National Confectioner’s Association.

“It’s kind of essential during this pandemic, it helps keep us going,” said Michelle Egan.

By fall, See’s had reopened its stores, ten each week, with plexiglass, masks, and limited capacity. And there’s their unique take on the six-foot distancing rule: it’s equal to 34 pieces of chocolate or 24 lollipops.

Now the company says the holidays are looking bright, thanks to shoppers like Jenny Giatis and Eric Johnson. For them, See’s is synonymous with holidays.

“I’m sending sweets and happiness during a tough time,” said Johnson.

“I’m not going to get to see family members over Christmas so I’m going to send them a box of See’s candy,” said Giatis. “I’m sending them Christmas tradition.”

“The way we’ve gotten through this is our connection with our customers,” said Egan.

He says the company’s now ready to mark 100 years of candy based on Mary See’s original recipes. And after the holidays, See’s will debut a new piece of candy every month as part of its centennial celebration.

“We’re going to find a way to celebrate for sure,” he said.

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A sweet way to start a new century.