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Sandy Shutters Rockaways' Largest Employer During Busiest Season

By James Fanelli | November 30, 2012 6:48am

ROCKAWAY BEACH — The sweet smell of success normally wafts through Madelaine Chocolate Company during the holiday season.

Tiny molds of Santa Claus and snowmen whirl through its factory before being wrapped in foil. Machines stamp mounds of chocolate into Hanukkah coins, which are then tucked into their own jackets of gold filigree. Delivery trucks rumble away from the loading docks carrying thousands of pounds of chocolate each day.

But in the wake of Hurricane Sandy, nothing is normal for the family-owned Madelaine or its 450 employees.

The superstorm damaged the equipment and inventory inside the confectionery's four buildings along Beach Channel Drive, forcing a business that produces 20 million pounds of candy a year to close for the near future.

"This is the busiest time of year. It's the peak of our production period," Norman Gold, one of the owners of Madelaine, told DNAinfo New York. "Our season is done."

The company's shuttered brick buildings have dealt a heavy toll to the Rockaways. Madelaine is the peninsula's largest employer and one of the biggest private hirers in Queens. But until the candy maker resumes operations, its workers are out of jobs.

Unemployment is a double whammy for Madelaine workers since many live in the Sandy-socked area and must rebuild their homes. 

"A lot of them suffered with their personal losses in their homes, and on top of that, with their own means of employment," said Gold, adding that the storm damaged his mother's Belle Harbor house.

Gold's father, Jack Gold, and his uncle, Henry Kaye, started Madelaine in 1949.

The brothers were Holocaust survivors who came to the U.S. in 1946. They learned to make candy at Barton's Candy, then struck out on their own, opening a factory in lower Manhattan. Eventually, the business migrated to Brooklyn before finally settling in the Rockaways in 1967.

Madelaine makes chocolate candies for all the holidays, from Valentine's Day hearts to Easter eggs and bunnies.

"We do all the seasonal foiled products that all the kids enjoy," said Norman Gold, who has worked in the family business since 1992. "Everything you see in the stores with foil products. That's what we do here."

Gold said the business hasn't opened since the hurricane hit on the night of Oct. 29. Sandy's storm surge wreaked havoc inside of Madelaine's factory and surrounding streets.

Surveillance cameras on the outsides of Madelaine's buildings captured the hurricane, and Gold watched the footage live from a Brooklyn location.

"I actually saw the waves of water coming down the block and then the power went out," he said.

Gold has been at the business every day since the hurricane. He said it's too early to tell when the factory will reopen. He hopes to have power back at all the buildings in the next couple of days. Work crews will then remove debris. Then they must sanitize the entire 200,000-square-foot facility.

Written on the door of one entrance to one the buildings is, "We are closed for now. Call Union. Stay Safe."

Gold said Madelaine was able to give workers — members of Local 1222 United Professional and Service Employees Union — their final paycheck they earned before the storm.

Many employees are single moms, he said. Some of the workers have been with the candy maker for 30 years and more.

"It's a family-owned business and a lot of people have grown up with us," he said. "There were a lot of tears shed here."