"People seem to be getting back to the good, old-fashioned candies," said manager Paula Terreri, noting that Shane's candy eggs still are made with the traditional yellow-tinted "yolk" at the center.
"There was a fad for chocolate truffles and brand-name candies like Godiva and for a few years there was a dip in sales of cream eggs, but it's coming back. Our biggest selling item is still the one-pound, dark chocolate, coconut-cream egg."
(Shane's cream-filled, decorated eggs range in size and price from a half- pound for $4.50 to 5 pounds for $25.95.)
While most other Easter candies - the jelly beans and novelties - are sold nationwide, the coconut-cream-filled decorated eggs are sold almost exclusively in the East.
"In other parts of the country, Easter just doesn't represent the same amount of buying," said John Glaser, a fourth-generation candymaker. ''Families elsewhere don't spend the same amount of money they do here in the East.
"The average family in the Philadelphia area probably spends close to double, almost twice as much (for Easter candy) as the family in Cleveland," said Glaser, president of Stutz Candy Co. and past president of the Philadelphia Retail Confectioners Association and the Pennsylvania Manufacturing Confectioners Association.
He said that while hollow-shell eggs have shown the most growth in sales, in total units the chocolate bunnies will outsell both the hollow-shell and cream-filled eggs.
Glaser noted, too, that the demand for dark chocolate was strictly an Eastern thing. "Even in Pittsburgh they don't know what dark chocolate is," he said. "You have to jump to the West Coast to find dark chocolate equal to milk chocolates in mixed boxes. Milk chocolate predominates in molded goods. West of Harrisburg to the West Coast, it becomes a milk-chocolate market."
Be it dark, milk or white, chocolate is selling well. Consumption climbed to 10.6 pounds per person in 1992, up from 8.9 pounds a decade earlier, though not quite back to the average 10.9 pounds per person of 1972.
Americans have a $14.5 billion-a-year sweet tooth, and the National Confectioners' Association expects $881 million of that to be spent on the decorated eggs, chocolate bunnies, marshmallow chicks, jelly beans and such that fill the traditional Easter baskets found in four of five households with children.
A lot of that comes from Philadelphia, where such companies as Falcon Candy turn out more than 35,000 one-pound eggs a day, and where 75 million chocolate bunnies of various sizes and shapes are shipped nationwide each Easter just
from Frankford Candy & Chocolate Co. on Washington Avenue.
This year, many of those bunnies are being marketed with what Alan Kline, Frankford's executive vice president, calls "added play value." These chocolate bunnies come packaged with little extras for the youngsters such as sidewalk chalk, balls and trendy toys.
Add the millions of pounds of small foil-wrapped eggs - 90 to the pound - that Frankford supplies in bags and in bulk to such chains as Wal-Mart, Kmart, Woolworth's, Rite-Aid, Eckerd Drug and others, and it's easy to see why Frankford is one of the country's leading producers of seasonal chocolates.
Production for some of Frankford's Easter items begins as much as six months before the holiday. The season's specialties account for more than half of the firm's annual sales. (Frankford's 6-ounce, coconut- cream-filled eggs cost about $1.29 in area supermarkets and chain stores.)
But while business has been good, there also has been a slow but steady decline in the number of local companies producing candy. During the last 20 years, the number has dropped by at least half, from about 80 to probably fewer than 40, said Glaser.
Some were bought up by larger firms; others couldn't keep up with escalating costs of ingredients and labor or the increasing competition from giants such as Hershey and Nestle, which have begun marketing packaged seasonal Easter candies of their own.
But for fresh, hand-dipped, hand-decorated candies, Philadelphians still depend on small retail confectioners such as Shane's and Aux Petites Delices in Wayne.
As Easter approaches, Aux Petites Delices, run by master chocolatier Patrick Gauthron, becomes a virtual warren of colorful chocolate-painted and molded rabbits in sizes and styles from the popular 5-inch bunnies ($6.95, in dark, milk and white chocolate) all the way up to the prize 3-foot figure he has christened "Jeannot Lapin." This French equivalent of Peter Rabbit is available, on order, for $195.
Easter chocolates are as much a tradition in France, said Gauthron, as they are here.
"But basically in France, there are eggs and chickens and bells, because in France at Easter they ring the church bells," he said. "There are some bunnies, but here the bunny rabbit is more popular. (In the United States,) milk chocolate is the most popular but white chocolate is becoming more popular. The people who are connoisseurs in chocolate, they buy the dark."
Gauthron said that his most popular item was "the little (chocolate) chicken with foil eggs inside, I never have enough."
"Some people try to save (the candy), especially the big pieces," said Gauthron, who also teaches classes. "But you should eat them after a month or a month and a half."
Unless you want to keep them forever. In that case, Gauthron suggests ''glazing" the figure as he sometimes does with large display pieces such as "Jeannot Lapin."
"I take that with me during the year to shows and to classes," he explained.
Otherwise, he advises keeping chocolates at room temperature, not exceeding 85 degrees. About 70 degrees is best. Candies with cream fillings and ganache are best kept about 60 degrees.
Factory-made chocolates are expected to have a shelf life of about one year, and are normally kept in low-humidity storage rooms at 55 degrees until they are shipped to retail stores.
FOR MORE INFORMATION
* Patrick Gauthron will hold hands-on chocolate classes, $35 each, on June 27 and July 13, from 6 to 8 p.m., in the climate-controlled workroom at his shop, Aux Petites Delices, 168 E. Lancaster Ave., Wayne. For registration or information, call 610-971-0300.