Discarded candle jars in the process of having old wax removed litter the candle-making room of locally owned shop, Candle Makers on the Square. Drawers are filled with every scent, wick, jar and fragrance imaginable. Wax covers the floor, and the room smells of a mix of florals and burning wood. The space oozes creativity, and Rachel Summar, shop owner, said it’s her favorite place in the store.
Candle Makers on the Square has been in operation for 15 years and has had multiple owners. The most recent is Summar, who took over after the previous owner, Rick Raque, passed away in October 2021. Since then Summar has been working with Raque’s son to exchange ownership.
Despite being a long-time lover of candles and a frequent customer at Candle Makers on the Square, Summar had no experience in making candles before she started at the store — she had been a regular customer since it’s 2007 opening, however. When Raque discontinued her favorite scent in spring 2020, she said she decided to take matters into her own hands.
“I just wanted to talk to him and tell him some things that would be good for the store,” Summar said. “That was my intention of going in the store and somehow we’re in this meeting and he’s like, ‘I love everything you’re saying. Do you want to work or lead?’ And I said ‘Lead,’ thinking ’What am I saying?’”
Summar started at the shop as the COVID-19 pandemic began but got right to work.
“I knew nothing. Quite honestly, there was someone here who trained me before she left, but COVID was the best thing for me,” Summar said. “I hate to say that because it was such a sad thing and has been for so many people. But for us to be shut down, I came to work every day just like it was open even though our doors were closed.”
Summar has only experienced running the store during the pandemic.
“People are like ‘How is it with COVID?’ and I’m like ‘I have no idea, it’s fine to me,’” Summar said.
Summar focuses on learning as much as she can. She said she still feels like she learns something new every week.
“There’s a lot of science behind it… Test, test, test. That’s the most important thing with candles,” Summar said.
Candle Makers on the Square makes all of their candles by hand. Summar enjoys the process of making candles, especially when she is peacefully trying new mixes and sizes.
“It is relaxing. There is a lot of times where I would rather just be back there in the quiet. Some people like music, but I like nothing. My brain is always thinking a lot, and I just like the quiet,” Summar said.
A mom of three, Summar brings her daughters into the shop to help on occasion. Summar’s sister, Leah Head, has been working at the store for almost two years. Her favorite part is seeing the array of products, brought in by local vendors.
“I love seeing all the different vendors of Kentucky and Tennessee,” Head said. “I didn’t really realize how many great people were making things even in the city. A lot of times, customers will come in here and say, ‘Wow this store has changed,’ and it has. My sister has brought in a bunch of different vendors.”
Summar grew up surrounded by the community in Bowling Green and, when she began looking for vendors, wanted to create that same sense of local love in her store, she said.
“We try to be as local as we can with our other products. It may be stuff we find that is cute and original, it’s just not stuff you’d find in Target or whatever,” Summar said. “We want people to come in here and be able to find a gift for anybody. If we can do that locally, that’s our preference,”
Shop worker Ainsley Chism graduated from WKU in spring 2021. Chism is currently scheduled full time working in product inventory as she tries to master candle making in the backroom. Since her start at the store in September 2021, Chism said she has felt a familial atmosphere.
“I really like everything local so it makes me very happy to be around it … It’s like a little family,” Chism said.
Vendors bring in art, soaps, towels, clothing, honey and other small knick-knacks to sell. Summar said that they have something for everyone, including WKU students.
“We’ve tried to add some unique Western stuff that’s different than what’s on campus. Just trying to find things that people want, that isn’t a candle, since I know people can’t have that in their dorm,” Summar said.
The store also takes on a few large orders, servicing local restaurants and companies for candle orders, Summar said.
Aside from large orders, the shop has the occasional do-it-yourself candle pouring parties; Summar said that she hopes to expand this in the future as well as get further involved in the community. She hopes to start hosting informational trips for elementary students as well as educate others about the candle-making process, bringing the community into the shop.