For as long as she can remember, Andrea Jenkins has been a candle aficionado. In her West Philadelphia home, there are candles in glass jars, candles in tin cans, soy candles, candles that smell of mahogany and teakwood, and candles in medium-sized emerald green bowls.
But after a nasal surgery in February of 2018, Jenkins temporarily lost her sense of smell.
Not being able to smell, “was quite depressing,” Jenkins said. “But I remember candles being the first thing I was able to smell after the surgery. I would always light the candles, even if that was the only thing I could smell that day.”
Later that year, when her friend Marques Davis told her about his burgeoning candle business, Mount Airy Candle Co., she ordered by the dozen. To Jenkins, candle vendors are ubiquitous. But there’s just something about the scent of Mount Airy’s Vanilla Noir that she can’t get enough of — or find elsewhere.
And she’s not the only one. In only two years, Mount Airy Candle Co. has seen “tremendous growth,” according to Davis, who also has a full-time marketing job. What started out as a small, made-to-order Etsy shop has now turned into producing up to 300 candles a month. Mount Airy candles are now sold on the company’s website and at retailers such as The Mercantile in Northwest Philadelphia, Robertson’s Flowers in Chesnut Hill and Rothe Florists in Mount Airy. The candles can also be purchased at farmers markets in Elkins Park.
Davis came up with the idea of starting a candle business in October 2017. That year, he wanted to give handmade gifts to his friends and family for Christmas. He found a local candle supplier for the raw materials, watched instructional videos on YouTube, and began to pour candles at his Mount Airy home. He mostly works alone with the occasional help of close friends and family.
“It was never with the ambition of creating a small business,” Davis, 36, said. “But eventually people started asking me, ‘Hey, can you [make candles as] gifts I want to give to other people? I’ll pay you.’” Davis agreed and the opportunities allowed him to explore a variety of scent combinations.
In March, however, Davis thought his business might fail. During the first three weeks of the coronavirus pandemic, there were no orders being placed. A significant portion of Davis' business strategy was “being able to have [in-person] conversations about how I got started and more information on the custom scents,” Davis said. Coronavirus restrictions made such conversations impossible.
Right at the precipice of defeat, Davis remembered the wisdom his mother once shared, “Scared money don’t make money," or in other words, “Fortune favors the bold.” Davis focused his attention on redesigning his company’s website, which at the time, wasn’t expansive.
Davis also beefed up his social media presence, and soon, “the orders started to come in through the website," he said. “We’ve really seen an uptick in our wholesale orders.”
Currently, Mount Airy candles are divided into four curated collections. Earth & Ether house scents that are reminiscent of nature like the Mediterranean-inspired Sea Salt & Mist and the tranquil White Tea & Ginger. Florals & Fruits features sweeter scents like Gardenia & Jasmine and Grapefruit Mimosa.
Musk & Man is for those looking for deep, aromatic scents such as Golden Teakwood and Tobacco Noire. And Sugar & Spice includes herbaceous-themed scents like Spice Poached Pear and Black Pepper & Cardamom. Seasonal offerings of Cranberry Woods and Pumpkin & Chai Spice are also available. Mount Airy Candle Co. sells pillow spray and body butter in similar scents.
To keep mosquitoes at bay during the warmer months, Eric Roberts burns three Mount Airy Citronella Citrus candles on the deck of his house in Jenkintown. Indoors, he’s partial to the Pepper & Cardamom.
“It’s just a nice, masculine scent,” Roberts said. “But I’m a candle person, so it’s all about the environment. I want it to feel representative of me and the vibe I’m pushing at the moment.”
Over the summer, Laura Silverman of Mount Airy also burned the Citronella Citrus candle. She was introduced to Mount Airy Candle Co. at The Mercantile. “The simplicity of the packaging really appealed to me,” Silverman said. “It’s very direct and down to earth. And the scents, I never smelled before.”
Silverman said she never had an affinity for candles, but Mount Airy’s woodsy Palo Santo-scented candle has changed her mind.
Mount Airy Candle Co. offers three sizes: A 6-ounce metal tin ($12.50), a 9.5-ounce glass tumbler ($19.50), and a 16.5-ounce apothecary jar ($28.50). The company uses soy wax, and the wicks are made from cotton and paper. The scents are phthalate-free, according to Davis.
Davis has ambitions to eventually open a candle studio to serve as a production hub. But before then, he’s focused on scaling the brand by finding more retailers. Later this month, Mount Airy Candle Co. will grace the shelves of South Street’s Marsh + Mane, a beauty boutique that opened in 2018. They will carry three scents: Golden Teakwood, White Tea & Ginger, and Pumpkin & Chai Spice.
“I think it’s important to give shelf space to local makers who may have quality products but not the resources and capital to get things up and running,” said owner Jenea Robinson. “I am so fortunate when I see something I like and I’m able to get it in the store.”