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HERSHEY, Pa., May 4 (Reuters) - Demolition crews are clearing the last remnants from the Hershey Co. site where the famous chocolate maker gave candy lovers their first Kiss more than 100 years ago.
A new occupant will be moving into the 24-acre (10 hectare) property on East Chocolate Avenue in Hershey, Pennsylvania, where Milton S. Hershey opened his first sweets factory in 1905. In the years since the first teardrop-shaped chocolate Kisses rolled off the production line in 1907, newer and more innovative incarnations of the factory have occupied the site.
Wrecking crews are now clearing the site for the new owner, said Hershey spokesman Jeff Beckman. Westwood Properties, a real estate investment company based in Garden City, New York, bought the property in 2011 but has declined to reveal plans for its future.
"It would be premature to comment on a specific next use," said Westwood general partner Isidore Mayrock.
In the village named after the chocolate company founder, where street lights are shaped liked Hershey's Kisses, nearly the entire factory site is being demolished, with work expected to be finished by summer 2014.
Only 3 of the 24 acres have been spared and are being converted to office space, Beckman said.
Village residents said they were disappointed that the birthplace of an American icon was not being preserved.
"I was hoping they would at least use some of the old factory for tours," said Kathi Sopp, 52, who has lived in Hershey since 1987. "People should be able to always smell the aroma of chocolate and sweat from generations of workers in this town."
Chocolate-making at the site ceased in April 2012, when manufacturing operations were moved about two miles (3 km) away to an expanded facility in West Hershey, a $300 million construction project that updated the company's manufacturing technology.
About 600 employees lost their jobs in the transition, said Frederick Boltz, business agent at Chocolate Workers Local 464, the union representing the employees. About 700 of the current 1,000 union workers are from the former factory, company officials said.
Boltz said other employees were given severance packages or took early retirement.
Hershey's, best known for its chocolate bars and confections, also makes Reese's, Jolly Ranchers and Twizzlers. The company said it employs 4,800 people at Hershey and two other Pennsylvania sites, an additional 4,000 people elsewhere in the United States and another 5,200 people worldwide.
In addition to the village, a private philanthropic boarding school, an amusement park and the international candy company, as well as an entertainment and resorts conglomerate, are all named after Hershey, who died in 1945.
This has been a year of change for some of Pennsylvania's best-known companies. In February, famed investor Warren Buffett said his Berkshire Hathaway Inc would team up with a Brazilian financier to buy Pittsburgh-based H.J. Heinz Co. in a $23 billion deal.