By BILL LYNCH, Charleston Gazette-Mail
CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) – The air in candle maker Brooke Smith’s kitchen smelled good, even though it had nothing to do with morning oatmeal.
On one eye of his electric stove, a block of beeswax in a metal pitcher was slowly melting. The pitcher leaned back into a pot of boiling water.
As the wax melted, it gave off a faint smell of honey.
Once the wax became liquid, Smith checked the temperature. There was a great place to pour the wax into one of the hundred candle molds that Smith keeps. A little too hot or a little too cold and the spark plugs may not turn well.
The wax also needs to be poured at the right speed – slow and steady. Too fast and the candle may end up with unwanted air bubbles.
The 38-year-old said the candle molds also need to be at the right temperature. The whole process is not that difficult, but it requires patience and attention to detail.
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Of course, mistakes are made from time to time. The spark plugs don’t look quite right.
She shrugged and said, “The good part is, making mistakes isn’t that bad.”
You can just remelt the wax and try again.
Smith launched Charleston Bee Works from his South Hills home just a few months ago and really didn’t start doing much business until the 2021 holiday season.
“I started with this during the pandemic,” she said. “It was a pandemic pastime.”
Originally from eastern Kentucky, Smith and her family moved to Charleston at the start of the pandemic. Smith’s husband, Kevin, had just accepted a position as Associate Director of Pulmonary Critical Care Fellowship at WVU’s CAMC.
Prior to Charleston, Smith worked in public administration for nonprofit organizations but stayed home to raise their three young children.
They had come to Charleston because they loved the area and its proximity to home.
“We loved coming here,” she said, “I’m literally a coal miner’s daughter.”
Charleston was also a gateway to many outdoor activities.
“We hike and we paddle,” Smith said. “We just got back from a few days in Canaan.”
At the start of the pandemic, information on the spread of COVID-19 was still being developed. Smith said they adapted and adjusted as best they could. Her husband’s job was necessary, but keeping Smith and the children safe was stressful.
“I got into candles because I needed to bring some peace into the house,” she said. “I needed calm. I lit a lot of candles.
The light is soothing, Smith said.
Making candles seemed fun. It gave him something to think about and something to do with his hands.
She read books on candle making, watched videos and discovered beeswax.
“It’s the cleanest, most natural wax you can use,” she said.
Smith and his family support local farms and businesses. She had JQ Dickinson salt in her kitchen. Paintings and photos by local artists decorate the walls of the house.
“We were already buying local honey at the Capitol Market,” she says.
Smith contacted local beekeepers and purchased their wax. In addition to candles, she started making soap and hand lotion.
Some of its items are scented or colored.
“These are all natural ingredients,” she says. “I use essential oils and the beeswax kinda helps hold it together.”
She made candles and soap, gave them as gifts to friends, who were delighted with them.
Then last fall, Smith started selling online.
It was something of a hit and Smith did very well during the holidays.
“A lot of people like candles,” she said with a shrug.
Then Steph Woody of Vandalia Donut in Elk City asked him about the sale of Charleston Bee Works candles in his shop.
“She was awesome,” Smith said.
Then Buck and Bette on Summers Street in Charleston began selling Charleston Bee Works products. Smith sells candles at Hoot and Howl in Morgantown and her lotion bars have just been added to The Shoppe in Nitro.
Smith sources locally. Its beeswax comes from Mountain State Honey in Tucker County and Sugar Bottom Farm in Clay County. She gets honey for her hand soap from Elk Valley Crafters.
She takes pride in her candles, which she says are cleaner and healthier than other types of candles.
“They’re prettier too,” Smith added.
And they last a long time, although it also depends on the size of the candle.
“I don’t know the math for sure,” she said. “From what I’ve read you get one to two hours per ounce, but the pillar candles will last for days.”
Work keeps her busy – like a bee.
“I do this every day,” she says. “I make candles every day.”
Smith wasn’t complaining. She liked the work, her house smelled good, but the candle maker wasn’t clear what size she wanted Charleston Bee Works to get.
She talked a bit about expanding her offering, adding more products and maybe more locations to sell candles and soaps, but she seemed to appreciate how nice her small business could be.
However, it was getting too big for his kitchen.
“I’m just running out of space,” Smith said.
For more information, visit charlestonbeeworks.com in line.
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