Last month, my sister-in-law and her boyfriend from NYC were in town for a quick visit. Given the fact this was her beloved’s first trip to Naperville, it was no-brainer that we would spend a day strolling through Downtown Naperville. With the kids in tow, we were walking down Jefferson Avenue and suddenly noticed a fragrant aroma drifting through the air. We literally stopped in our tracks and looked to our left to find an open door and stairwell leading down to one of the subterranean commercial spaces.
The sign outside read Wayfarer Candles . How could I have missed this place I thought? At this point, let’s examine the facts. Exhibit A, you have candles. Exhibit B, you have extremely fragrant candles. Needless to say, the bait worked and my wife and her sister led the way as we carefully navigated the steps down into the smaller-than-expected space along with the kids.
What we discovered was nothing short of a breath of fresh air amidst the stale debate as of late around skyrocketing commercial rent and new downtown development which will be delivering additional national chains to Naperville.
Believe or not, this tight space houses both a product showroom and studio space where the candles are actually blended and poured. We’re talking candles made from soy bean oil and custom blended fragrances. You can imagine I was a bit nervous with my two little anxious guys in an ultra-small shop filled with candles in glass. However, all of a sudden the owner, Mike, walked over and the tables turned as he invited my two sons into the next room to see how the candles are actually made. Mike walked us through the entire process from the melting, to fragrance selection/blending to perhaps the greatest conversational piece which is a depression-era safe complete with a large heavy door (pictured above).
Believe it or not, the experience of seeing and learning more about this process proved fascinating for all of us, especially the little guys. I’ve written about the difference between a business and an “experience” and Mike’s passion creates a true experience which is both memorable and worth recommending to others. In the end, we were all given a traditional gift which the boys picked out.
As my wife concluded some purchases, I spent some time talking to Mike and learned that he and his wife had been living in New Orleans before Hurrican Katrina. He was working as a chef and they both loved the Big Easy. However, after becoming displaced by Hurricane Katrina, the couple settled here in Naperville and launched their Wayfarer dream which transcends a mere shop to a large scale market strategy sell their candles through channels in bulk as well as private label deals. In the end, we were all given a traditional gift which the boys picked out. For now, the store is a public face for Wayfarer candles and let’s hope we can keep them there.
In a nutshell, this is precisely the type of entreprenuerial vision our community should be supporting wholeheartedly. A start-up business which is well on its way to possibly becoming a national household name given the scope of their strategy. I encourage everyone to support this new business which may one day require a local corporate headquarters of its own.
Wayfarer Candles is located at 34 West Jefferson Avenue. Be sure to follow the fragrance and look down as the store is located beneath the recently closed Antique Mall. I’m sure Mike would love to take you on a tour.