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A homemade gift project blossoms into a candle venture

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It all began as one of Marques Davis’ self-described “quirky ideas.” In 2018, he decided that for the holidays he would make his loved ones a handmade gift: soap.

But soapmaking, with its weeks-long production period, did not agree with Davis’ disposition, he says. “I like immediate gratification.”

After what he calls his “soap fail,” he turned to a plan B: candlemaking. His ill-fated soapmaking escapade had led him to Quakertown retailer Candles & Supplies, where he was enraptured by the sensory stimulation.

“I would literally spend hours there, just going up and down the scent wall, trying to find unique scents or holding two scents, maybe three sometimes, to my nose to see, ‘Okay, could I blend these together to make something interesting and unique?’ And I just kind of fell in love with the whole process of it.”

Marques Davis, founder of Mount Airy Candle Co. Photo courtesy of Mount Airy Candle Co.

Davis also appreciated the immediacy of candlemaking and was delighted to present the candles as gifts. When the holidays were over, he thought that would be the end of it and he would be on to the next quirky project.

The gift recipients thought otherwise. They loved the candles and wanted more, and they “kind of nudged me into turning it into a business.” In 2019, Davis, who still works full time as a director of marketing planning and performance for Ikea, founded Mount Airy Candle Co., a company specializing in hand poured candles.

At the behest of a co-worker at his day job, Davis approached Weavers Way Co-op in Mount Airy. They were the first retailer he asked about carrying his products, and he credits them with helping him take his business to the next level. “Weavers Way gave me the opportunity to truly start to become a baby entrepreneur. They said yes when they could have said no,” Davis says.

Now his candles are available online, at retail locations throughout Greater Philadelphia, and at his new studio in Germantown.

Photo courtesy of Mount Airy Candle Co.

The company began in Davis’ kitchen, and almost immediately outgrew that space and moved to his basement. Eventually he realized that “when you’re stepping over boxes of wax and the dog is in between your legs and, you know, every table surface is covered with candles for orders” that it was time to make the move to the studio.

While he sells candles at the new location, he doesn’t keep regular hours there (he works 9-to-5 for Ikea) — and he views it more as an artist’s studio, which he uses for special events. The new space has allowed him to expand into making perfumes and body care items, something he could have never imagined doing in his cluttered basement.

Davis’ favorite part is still the process that initially captured him: perfecting scents he finds evocative. “We know scent can awaken desire and stir long-lost memories,” Davis says. His ‘Crème de Vanille’ reminds him of his favorite hamburger and milkshake shop growing up in Norristown. And one of his fall favorites, ‘Figs & Pink Pepper,’ is an homage to the Fig Newton. The scent of pear is often a prominent ingredient in his creations. “I’ll take a poached pear for dessert, put pears in my salad,” he says. “Give me a pear martini, I’m happy.”

Though his candles are primarily his own creations, there is one exception: the ‘Cashmere & Amber’ scent. Davis’ mother had suggested the combination, and he was very skeptical. “I told her, it won’t work. Those two things don’t go together.” But after a couple months, he relented and blended the scents, and it’s now one of his bestselling candles. “My penance is that anytime anyone buys the candle, I tell them the story,” he says.”

And Davis hopes to continue telling that story for a long time. “I’m thankful for every order that comes in. Every time I see one come through my phone, I express a bit of gratitude. And that may seem like, ‘Oh, he’s just saying it,’ but it’s really true.”

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