Scents of Kentucky provide niche for local candle maker

Company's scents include mint julep and Derby-Pie

ctruman@herald-leader.comFebruary 10, 2012 

  • AT A GLANCE

    Brownstone Candle Co.: 316 N. Ashland Ave. Hours are 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Mon.-Sat. (859) 246-3540. Brownstonecandle.com.

Step into Jenna Arvin's Brownstone Candle store, and the scents come at you thick and fast.

First it's creme brûleé, that heady blend of vanilla and cream that is the most popular scent, in a warmer device holding a scented wax melt by the door.

Then you smell the other scents — mint julep, cigar store and honeysuckle vine — in which the Lexington-based soy wax candle maker specializes. There's even one that smells like the heady chocolate-and-pecan mix of Derby-Pie. Winner's Circle is a rose scent with a touch of leather.

Arvin has positioned Brownstone Candle Co. — named for the brownstone in New York where her husband, Timothy, once lived — in a niche that she hopes candle industry giants such as Yankee Candle can't touch.

Brownstone's packaging is subtle and varied: eco-friendly brown fiber, monogram-embossed glass and some small Mason jars. The brand markets some specialty fragrances that include, in addition to the Kentucky fragrances, scents that coordinate with religious sayings, spa fragrance, seasonal scents and the smell of cabernet wine. Most of the candles sold online are about $20, but less expensive ones in smaller sizes are available in the North Ashland Avenue store.

From pouring to packaging, everything is done by hand. Every candle that Brownstone sells is touched by at least four people, Arvin said.

She had made candles as gifts for years, but she finally decided to devote herself to Brownstone full-time in 2009 so she could be home more with her two children, ages 10 and 11, who help with the business. Nonetheless, she said, she works seven days a week.

"When you're still growing, you really have to do that in order to make it," Arvin said.

Candles are a big fragrance market. The National Candle Association estimates Americans spend $2 billion annually on candles; it's estimated that seven out of 10 Americans have scented candles in their homes.

Brownstone is small enough to fill custom orders and provide candles for special events, such as fund-raisers and weddings, and large enough to have its candle lines stocked in stores around the country. Brownstone also has provided candles for Georgia's Callaway Gardens, a Ritz-Carlton spa in Florida and Howe Caverns in New York.

The wax is poured outside of Lexington, but all packing and shipping is done in Lexington in the building that houses the retail storefront. Arvin works with fragrance manufacturers to get the oils she needs, and she is constantly testing to determine how wax pools, because candles that burn a tunnel down their center are considered improperly made. Wicks for various scents are of various thicknesses, and a long "scent throw" is prized.

"We focus on using the strongest oils we can find," Arvin said.

As a consumer, she said, "I want the best, but I want to pay a reasonable price."

A graduate of Cumberland College, Arvin likes more subtle smells. The idea of the Kentucky line came to her when she was working as a pharmaceuticals representative and doing lots of "dashboard time" traveling between appointments around the state.

"I remember thinking, 'There's a story that can be told about Kentucky through scents,'" Arvin said.

She set about creating those scents in meltable form.

The retail store in the entrepreneur-friendly North Ashland commercial area was not part of Arvin's initial plan.

"We had all this space and it was just piled up with boxes, so the store kind of evolved," she said.

Cheryl Truman: (859) 231-3202. Twitter: @CherylTruman

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