CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — The air in candle-maker Brooke Smith’s kitchen smelled sweet, though it had nothing to do with the morning’s oatmeal.
On a single eye of her electric stove, a block of beeswax in a metal pitcher slowly melted. The pitcher leaned back in a pot of steadily boiling water.
As the wax melted, it released the faint smell of honey.
Once the wax became liquid, Smith checked the temperature. There was a sweet spot for pouring the wax into one of the hundred or so candle molds Smith keeps around. A little too hot or a little too cool and the candles might not turn out right.
The wax also has to be poured in at the correct speed — slow and steady. Too fast and the candle may end up with unwanted air bubbles.
The 38-year-old said the candle molds have to be the right temperature, too. The entire process isn’t all that difficult, but it requires patience and an attention to detail.
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Sure, mistakes get made from time to time. The candles don’t look quite right.
She shrugged and said, “The good part is that making mistakes isn’t that big of a deal.”
You can just re-melt the wax and try again.
Smith started Charleston Bee Works out of her South Hills home just a few months ago and really didn’t begin doing a lot of business before the 2021 holiday season.
“I got started with this during the pandemic,” she said. “It was a pandemic hobby.”
Originally from eastern Kentucky, Smith and her family moved to Charleston during the early days of the pandemic. Smith’s husband, Kevin, had just taken a job as the assistant director of the pulmonary critical care fellowship at WVU’s CAMC location.
Before Charleston, Smith worked in public administration for non-profits but was staying home to raise their three young children.
They’d come to Charleston because they liked the region and its proximity to home.
“We loved coming here,” she said, “I am, literally, a coal miner’s daughter.”
Charleston was also a gateway to many outdoors activities.
“We hike and we paddle,” Smith said. “We just got back from a few days at Canaan.”
At the start of the pandemic, information about how COVID-19 was spread was still developing. Smith said they adapted and adjusted as best they could. Her husband’s work 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 some calm. I’d light candles a lot.”
The light is soothing, Smith said.
Making candles seemed like fun. It gave her something to think about and something to do with her hands.
She read books about candle making, watched videos, and learned about beeswax.
“It’s the cleanest, most natural wax you can use,” she said.
Smith and her family support local farms and businesses. She had J.Q. Dickinson salt in her kitchen. Paintings and photos from local artists decorate the walls of the house.
“We’d already been buying local honey at the Capitol Market,” she said.
Smith made contact with local beekeepers and bought their wax. Along with the candles, she started making soap and hand lotion.
Some of her items are scented or colored.
“It’s all natural ingredients,” she said. “I use essential oils, and beeswax sort of helps hold it together.”
She made candles and soap, gave it away as gifts to friends, who raved about it.
Then last fall, Smith started selling online.
It was something of a hit and Smith did very well over the holidays.
“Lots of people like candles,” she said and shrugged.
Then Steph Woody at Vandalia Donut in Elk City asked her about selling Charleston Bee Works candles at her shop.
“She was great,” Smith said.
Then Buck and Bette on Summers Street in Charleston began carrying Charleston Bee Works products. Smith is selling candles at Hoot and Howl in Morgantown and her lotion bars were just added to The Shoppe in Nitro.
Smith gets her supplies locally. Her beeswax comes from Mountain State Honey in Tucker County and Sugar Bottom Farm in Clay County. She gets honey for her hand soap at Elk Valley Crafters.
She’s proud of her candles, which she says are cleaner and healthier than other kinds of candles.
“They’re prettier, too,” Smith added.
And they last a good, long time, though this 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.”
The work keeps her busy — as a bee.
“I’m doing this every day,” she said. “I’m making candles every day.”
Smith wasn’t complaining. She enjoyed the work, her house smelled wonderful, but the candle-maker wasn’t clear about how big she wanted Charleston Bee Works to get.
She talked a little about expanding what she offered, adding more products and maybe more locations to sell candles and soaps, but she seemed to enjoy how personable her small business could be.
Nevertheless, she was outgrowing her kitchen.
“I’m just running out of space,” Smith said.
For more information visit charlestonbeeworks.com online.
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