(WJET/WFXP/YourErie.com) — Move over Willy Wonka, Meadville soon will have its own chocolate factory.

Stefanelli’s Candies is planning to open a 12,000-square-foot operation at 177 Mercer Street in Meadville. (The story was first reported by the Meadville Tribune.) By the most optimistic estimates, the new operation will open in the Summer of 2023, said Stacy Kessler, the manager of Stefanelli’s.

“It will give us additional production space. There will be additional chocolate enrobers (the machines that coat a product in chocolate) and tanks for loading chocolate,” Kessler said. “In Erie, we’re bursting at the seams. It’s tight. We’ve grown the business since we bought it in 2015, and currently, there honestly is no more room for growth in Erie.”

Stefanelli’s recently has had to rent storage units for its paper products and packing due to a lack of space in its other facilities. By opening production in Meadville (with an estimated project cost of about $1 million), that problem will be solved. Kessler also said it could lead to expanded online sales.

“Right now, there pretty much is no shipping department in our Erie location — we do shipping out of there, but we don’t have a spot for it really. They’re buried in a corner, and the person has about three feet of space around them,” Kessler said. “She doesn’t even have her own table to pack boxes. We literally put a makeshift piece of cardboard over a 50-gallon drum.”

If packaging has room for growth, so too can shipping grow. Then the company can look more toward online sales.

“We do more online sales than before we bought the company (in 2015), but we’re always hesitant to expand that because we just can’t do it,” Kessler explained. “Once we have the space, we can throw some money from sales to have our web people promote to our internet-based customers more so than ever.”

In total throughout its six retail locations, Stefanellis has about 30 employees. The new building may add 20-25 jobs. Stefanelli’s is family-owned; Kessler and two of her three sisters (Connie Guthrie and Andrea Kregel) own and manage the business with their parents Kathy and Joe Stainbrook. The family is from Meadville, so their eyes on expansion have been on Meadville, but Kessler said they have no plans to leave Erie.

“Even though we’re a Meadville family, we know where our bread is buttered. We don’t plan on ruining that relationship with the Erie community at all,” she said. “Stefanelli’s was founded in Erie and the Erie people have been good to us. We have gone through some trying times with COVID and it has been the Erie community that has kept Stefanelli’s in Erie moving. We have no intention — by any means — of shifting jobs away from Erie.”

The news of the upcoming production facility in Meadville comes just days before Stefanelli’s will open its Buffalo Road Erie location. The company had a location on Buffalo Road until June 2022 when a new Dunkin Donuts was moved into its location. On Feb. 6, Stefanelli’s again will return to Buffalo Road in the Price Rite Plaza at 4500 Buffalo Road (in the old Wine and Spirits store).

“It’s just in time for Valentine’s Day,” Kessler said.