This is one in a series of profiles on the five Columbia City Council candidates.
COLUMBIA — On a recent Wednesday morning outside The Candy Factory, a warm drizzle fell and the sky was strangely dark for 10 a.m. as cars splashed down Seventh and Cherry streets.
1614 Secretariat Drive
PERSONAL: Age: 31. He is married to Amy Atkinson. They have two children, one son, 4; and a daughter, 2. Another child is due April 18.
CAMPAIGN WEBSITE: www.atkinson4citycouncil.com/
OCCUPATION: Co-owns The Candy Factory with his parents. He also is the store's director of operations and chief of new product development.
EDUCATION: Graduated from Rock Bridge High School in 1999; dual degrees in marketing and entrepreneurship from Baylor University, 2003.
BACKGROUND: Serves on the Central Columbia Association Board of Directors, deacon at Memorial Baptist Church; volunteer referee for the church’s Upward basketball league.
The weather slowed the traffic but didn't slow the activity inside The Candy Factory. In an upstairs room, co-owner Mike Atkinson places animal crackers on a green conveyor belt so they can be coated in white chocolate before he adds a dash of multicolored sprinkles. Nearby, an employee covers Twinkies with milk chocolate. Downstairs, customers mill around the store perusing not only the myriad candies it offers but also an assortment of kitchen gadgets, stuffed animals and party supplies.
Atkinson walked through the wooden doors into The Candy Factory at 10 a.m., 30 minutes after the shop opened for the day. His black tennis shoes squeaked as he walked across the wooden floors and greeted his workers with a smile.
The Candy Factory
On this morning, Atkinson was running a little late for work. He said he typically arrives at 9 a.m. and leaves between 5 and 6 p.m. As soon as he arrived, Atkinson walked up a staircase, lined by walls featuring puffy white clouds against a blue sky, to wash his hands and put on a white apron and blue latex gloves.
Atkinson and a handful of his employees are responsible for creating nearly all the candy sold in the factory. His parents, Sam and Donna Atkinson, bought the store in 1986 when it was in a building on Broadway next to the El Rancho. They moved to the Hetzler Building farther west on Broadway in 1990 and, in 1999, they expanded and moved to the current location at the northeast corner of Seventh and Cherry streets.
Atkinson was 5 when his parents bought The Candy Factory. As a kid, he'd spend time there doing whatever he could do. Atkinson said he can remember at the age of 6 or 7 going into the business to just hang out. He didn't accomplish much at that age, he said. By his teenage years, he became more productive at the store.
"I would assist in candy making, packaging candy, took out the trash. I did the jobs that no one else wanted to do," Atkinson said. "It helped build a strong work ethic."
In his early teens, his parents built an apartment above The Candy Factory because they often worked late, Atkinson said. He said he can remember staying with his parents, sister and brother at the apartment some nights.
“Being a family business, it’s unique and dynamic,” Atkinson said. “We trust each other very much. We can trust each other to do their work.”
Because the business is family-owned, the Atkinsons can make big decisions over casual lunches rather than working through layers upon layers of management, Atkinson said.
"Working with family is so different than working with others," Atkinson said. "You can trust family and know they will be the best they can and will be honest."
Since his parents sold half the business to Atkinson in 2005, he and his wife, Amy, have taken care of the "day-to-day stuff."
"(My parents) stepped down because the business grew to a point where they decided to either sell or bring on Amy and myself to help," Atkinson said.
Atkinson takes care of the finances by paying bills and balancing the budget. He also is in charge of producing and marketing the candies, and he does market research to determine where the people who buy the most candy live and how to better reach the public through advertising.
“I really like being able to have a business grow and thrive based on the effort I put in,” Atkinson said. He said he also likes “the freedom of using my ideas and labor to be successful as well.”
Cara Crumley, retail store manager, remembers last summer when "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2" came out. On the day after the midnight premiere, all the employees scheduled to work up front wanted to take the day off because they had been out so late.
Instead of making candy that morning, Atkinson agreed to work in the retail shop so employees who went to the movie could sleep in, Crumley said.
“(Atkinson) is fun. I really enjoy working here,” Crumley said. “He’s really creative with fun ideas. He’s also very flexible.”
Artisan chocolates are among the more popular ideas Atkinson has developed. The Candy Factory was asked in October 2010 to make candies for a donors' event at MU, so he brainstormed the artisan candies with elaborate abstract color designs on top. They were such a hit that The Candy Factory started selling them in the store, Atkinson said.
Chocolate-covered potato chips also are catching on with customers, Atkinson said. "I like making the chocolate-covered potato chips because I'll eat a bunch (while making them)."
Atkinson was born and raised in Columbia, then ventured to Texas to attend Baylor University. He then moved to Sioux Falls, S.D., but eventually made his way back home.
Atkinson has lived elsewhere, but there’s just something about Columbia that brought him back.
“It was in the back of my mind to come back to Columbia,” Atkinson said. “I was more focused on my career, but when The Candy Factory became an option, we took it.”
The 'we' he’s referring to is he and his wife, Amy. The couple met during college at Baylor, and in 2001, he invited Amy to come to Columbia with him to watch a Baylor-Missouri game.
"I loved Columbia when I first came here," Amy Atkinson said. "I like the college town and the whole scene of it."
After college, Amy Atkinson moved to South Dakota to be with her family; her parents had moved there during her senior year. While she was gone, Mike Atkinson quickly realized he wanted to make her his fiancée, so he followed her to South Dakota and proposed.
The couple lived in Sioux Falls, S.D., from 2003 to 2005.
Atkinson worked as an internal auditor for First Premier Bank and Premier Bankcard. In 2005, Atkinson and his wife moved to Columbia when his parents proposed the opportunity to co-own The Candy Factory with them. Atkinson's wife sacrificed physician assistant school to move to Columbia.
Married with two children and one on the way, Atkinson makes time for day-to-day family stuff. He also makes time to serve as a deacon at Memorial Baptist Church and referee for the church's Upward basketball league.
It's clear Atkinson is a busy man. But he has a plan to balance his life if he's elected to the Columbia City Council.
"Balancing family life and council work will be a challenge, but I'm more than confident to find the hours in the day to be of a great service to the city," Atkinson said.
He said that from 5 a.m. to 8 p.m. each day, he'll spend time with his family and at The Candy Factory. Atkinson said that because he's his own boss, he has enough flexibility to find time for city government work. Atkinson said that thus far, he's been able to find the time to campaign and to raise money.
His wife sees his energy and his excitement about the prospect of serving on the council, and she said she supports him entirely.
On the nights he campaigns, Atkinson said he usually will stop by his Derby Ridge home for dinner and some family time after work. Then he goes out to forums or to campaign until 9 or 10 p.m.
“I have no worries about balance,” Amy Atkinson said. “He wouldn’t do this if I wasn’t fully behind him.”
The couple has a 4-year-old son, Carter, a 2-year-old daughter, Joslyn, and another baby due on April 18.
Family is really important to Atkinson, he said. When asked about his children, his face said it all. He smiles anytime his children come up in conversation.
"He's a very friendly guy," said Elly Bethune, owner of Elly's Couture and a friend from high school. "He's very personable and especially happy when talking about his family."
Atkinson said he especially makes time on the weekends to spend with his family.
“We get up and make breakfast together, and then we’ll spend the morning doing some kind of activity,” Atkinson said. They might go to the putting green (Atkinson is an avid golfer), or they might play some disc golf or go on a hike, depending on the weather.
“We spend all day together.”
Atkinson said the role of deacon at his church is one of a servant leader. Each of the church deacons is assigned to work with a random grouping of families. His role is to be there for any kind of support they need.
"If someone is sick or needs a ride somewhere, that's what we help with," Atkinson said. "We're there for a support for our designated families."
Passion for change
Four years ago, while Atkinson and his wife were getting ready for church on a Sunday morning, a stranger walked in their unlocked back door. The couple has cow bells on their back door for their adopted husky-hunting dog mix, Barkley, to ring if he wants to go outside.
The couple heard the bells ring, but Atkinson immediately noticed that Barkley was sitting right next to him. That's when he realized someone was breaking into the home. Fortunately, Barkley ran downstairs and scared the intruder away. The event left the couple shaken and scared, Atkinson said.
And last summer, Atkinson left his truck unlocked in his driveway, and somebody stole his golf clubs from the cab. He believes crime has been on the rise in the Second Ward over the past few years, and he wants to do what he can to reverse that trend.
“I’ve talked to some people whose houses have been broken into,” Atkinson said. “That’s an invasion of privacy and peace, and everybody deals with that differently. Some become more cautious, others buy alarm systems, and some even move.”
Atkinson reacted to the crime by becoming more cautious and making sure to lock doors and be aware of his surroundings.
“My thoughts are to back track,” Atkinson said. “When somebody is caught, plot it back to where they reside, and then designate a spot to monitor more closely.”
Atkinson said he will focus on where crimes are taking place. Generally, he thinks criminals are more likely to strike close to where they live. By plotting where criminals live, police can deter crime by being more focused with their patrols, he said.
Regardless of whether he wins the election, Atkinson said he is sure the City Council will be in good hands.
"Bill Pauls, Mike Trapp and I have become friends in the process, decent friends," Atkinson said. "I know that whichever one of us wins, the other two will be able to talk freely without reservations to him.
"I didn't think I'd make two new friends out of this, but I did. We're all easygoing and sensitive to the situation, and we respect one another."