Navigators on the hunt for the shuttered Schafer's Chocolate factory in Manayunk may spy a faded sheet-metal sign tacked to a phone pole still pointing the way; it's where Wilde Street cuts left, leaving Green Lane's unrelenting ascent.

A few blocks later and a right on single-lane Krams Avenue, and there it is, tucked next to a catering operation at the foot of stairs that climb dizzyingly to Silverwood, the next latitude.

It is two weeks before Easter when I pull in, a time when all across the city family operators on the order of Schafer's Chocolate were once running full tilt.

It was a glorious age, if you were a candy watcher: "He did tremendous rabbits and chicks and shell eggs," recalls local candy wholesaler Jack Lees, admiring the work of Harold Schafer, now deceased.

It is a common refrain, more a lament, really, among Philadelphia's aging band of candymen. This season (even as Hershey decamps, in part, to Mexico), Harry Young, another stalwart of Easter, is gone: His iconic shop on Girard Avenue closed after his death last year.

But a happy reversal of fortune is playing out beneath the massive rafters and overhead flywheels that spun the belts to mix the buttercream at the Schafer's plant: Michael and Julie Holahan have opened a candy store.

It is folksy and hard to find, and to their chagrin, it is on the opposite side of the plant from where Schafer, after his move from West Philadelphia in the late 1970s, once had a popular factory outlet.

This historical error has been noted time and again by old customers (including refugees from Young's) who have braved the difficult directions, searching for a taste - if only a visual one now - of their past: "One woman told me she'd tried three times," says Michael.

The Holahans operate their main retail shop - the Pennsylvania General Store - in the Reading Terminal Market. But looking for additional space last year, they moved their mail-order packing warehouse to the old plant; and appended the candy store.

That set Jack Lees to reminiscing. He is 79 now, the owner of Casani Candy, Philadelphia's legendary candy wholesaler. He waxes Chaucerian on the subject: "An old Polish guy in the 3100 block of Frankford Avenue made my shells; we sold to Wanamakers, we sold to Strawbridges. When he died I went to Schafer's and it worked out fine. But he couldn't keep up with us on 54th Street [his original location]. They had more room to work up in Manayunk, so. . . . "

He recounts a lost world, of chocolate houses on North Second Street, and Wunderlee at Eighth and Somerset, and Marquetand in Germantown, and Schellenberg's, which made candy at Front and Race before I-95 came barreling through.

He conjures half-pound eggs that would be decorated to order, and football-size panorama eggs with scenes inside, speckled malted-milk eggs, and the places that made "the big bunnies."

But he stops for the survivors, too - certainly quaint Lore's at Seventh and Chestnut, Shane Candy in Old City, Lero's near Broad and Snyder, and Zitner's with its Butter-Krak eggs, and Asher's, though it's no longer in Germantown, with a line of coconut eggs, rabbits, and all manner of Easter work.

A fair amount of it is here at the old Schafer's site, in glass-hooded candy cases that Holahan (at Jack Asher's urging) salvaged from Strawbridge & Clothier's sinking flagship in Center City.

There are Pennsylvania-born Peeps and chocolate bunnies and Easter crosses, decorated eggs and gingham-bowed baskets and, not knowing when to quit, Irish potatoes.

"We did $10,000 of business at Christmas," says Michael Holahan, which confirmed his hunch that even in the cliffs of Manayunk, even in a mail-order world, if you open a candy store, they will come.

If they can find it.

The Pennsylvania General Store

(Manayunk location), 228 Krams Ave.; 215-508-1881; www.pageneralstore.com

Contact columnist Rick Nichols at 215-854-2715 or rnichols@phillynews.com. Read his recent work at http://go.philly.com/ricknichols