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The sweetness of organization

Retired airman opens candy store with unique niche

OCD Candy Company owner and retired Air Force Master Sgt. Ellen Laguatan, donates a portion of sales proceeds to local autism charities. Photo credit: Ellen Laguatan

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Imagine it's Friday afternoon and the work day is almost done. The clock hands tick toward freedom. The weekend beckons. You're getting ready to pack up for the day and notice that the jar of candy you keep on your desk has been shaken up, dispersing the color-coded candies randomly from the segregated scheme you painstakingly organized. Although most people might shrug this off and leave to enjoy their weekend, you sit down and begin sorting the colors to put them back into their rightful place. This isn't a choice; it must be done. The glamorous allure of Friday evening dims, forgotten.

It may be hard to imagine, but for people living with obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), this scenario can be a reality. For retired Air Force Master Sgt. Ellen Laguatan, this event served as the catalyst for opening her own OCD-oriented candy shop in Tacoma.

"I had just bought a 10-pound bag (of candy) and was putting everything back together, irritated because I wanted to go home," she recalled. "I remember thinking It shouldn't have to be this way; I know I'm not the only one who eats their candy this way. I should be able to get it already made - there should be an OCD Candy Company. I actually said it out loud. That was my lightbulb moment."

Laguatan comes from a long line of military veterans and served 30 years herself in a variety of positions before retiring as a master sergeant.

"I put in 20 years of active-duty, was a technician, a traditional Guardsman. The military is a very good career for people with OCD because of the structure," she said.

After spending time searching for businesses that aligned with her needs and finding nothing, Laguatan decided to take matters into her own hands and create the very business she had been looking for.

"This was in 2002. In 2012, I was getting close to retirement from the military and was looking to get into the candy business because it was a good seller," she said. "At the time, the only thing available were M&Ms in single colors. As far as getting anything else that was already organized -- it didn't exist."

Eventually, she found a type of candy that was a perfect match for her needs: gummies. Bright colors and a multitude of flavors serve as the perfect flagship treat of the OCD Candy Company. Additionally, the store carries a variety of chocolates, nostalgic candies and other candy-themed merchandise. Laguatan also takes custom orders tailored to individual OCD tendencies.

Is anything sweeter than a candy shop filled to the brim with confectionary delights? How about donating a portion of sales proceeds to local charities that focus on children with autism, which Laguatan does on an annual basis.

"I started getting a lot of adults coming in, buying specifically OCD Candy Company goods," Laguatan explained. "Finally, I asked if there was some sort of community in the area that catered to adults with anxiety or OCD. That's when I learned that they were all parents, caretakers and teachers of children with autism. Until then, I had no idea there was a connection between autism and OCD tendencies."

As Laguatan built relationships with these patrons, she began to shift her perspective.

"I switched my focus because it was heartbreaking to think there were children with autism who couldn't enjoy candy," she relayed. I thought, It's easier to take care of kids than adults sometimes. If you can take care of kids, maybe it will alleviate some of the problems in adulthood."

Eating candy is an indulgent pleasure enjoyed by people of all ages, backgrounds, beliefs and conditions. By creating scrumptious sweets geared toward people who have OCD, Laguatan has made it possible for individuals to partake in edible delights without burden or hardship.

"The philosophy here is a true desire to help," she said. "Candy should be fun, and it should be happy."

OCD Candy Company, 11 a.m. to 6 p.m., Tuesday-Sunday; closed Monday, 754 Broadway, Tacoma, 253.376.7851, ocdcandycompany.net

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