When you pull into Keystone Candle, you can detect the pleasing scents even from the parking lot.
Such is the ambiance of the local, family-run factory store in Swatara Township.
Keystone Candle doesn’t just sell any old candles shipped in from wherever. This homegrown business has been crafting its own products for more than 40 years. Today, it offers around 100 scents in votives, tapers, pillars, jars and even baking dishes.
“We make all our candles here,” said Kristen Cowles, the third generation of her family to work the business. “For our candle rings and other accessories, most are made in the U.S. or ordered from a U.S. facility.”
Inside, a virtual cornucopia of candle scents mingle into a delightful potency. There’s apple cinnamon, coffee cake, baked apple crisp, lavender, bayberry and “Night Before Christmas,” plus sweet pea, merlot and spiced pumpkin, to name just a few.
Pumpkin also is the name of the friendly resident cat that greets you at the door. He likes leading customers around the store.
Ito, a devoted customer who hails from Swatara Township, has bought Keystone Candles on a “constant, revolving-door basis” for 25 years, he said. His favorite is sandlewood, but he also likes mesquite, balsam pine, linen and citronella.
“They’re amazing. I buy them as gifts and keep buying them for the home and work,” said Ito, who works as a hairdresser in Susquehanna Township. “I also like that they will put candles in your own containers.”
George Morris and wife Lindy of “Imagination by Lindy” sell Keystone Candles with their own crafts in shows and fundraisers around Pennsylvania and their home state of Maryland. George said he favors the pumpkin pie and pecan waffle scents.
“As soon as we started selling them, so many people wanted to buy them,” George said. “The wax is scented all the way through. To me, they’re very high quality.”
Like many family businesses, Keystone Candle originated as a small, home-based enterprise.
In the mid-1970s, Jeff and Cathy Brown began crafting homemade candles as a fundraiser for Middletown Christian School, where both worked as elementary-level teachers. Things changed, however, when Cathy’s parents, Art and Jane Eccles, started selling the Browns’ candles in their three gift shops. Before long, the candles became so popular that Jeff continued production in his basement.
In 1976, Cathy became pregnant with the couple’s first child, and Jeff decided that a growing family needed more income. He quit teaching and went into the candle business full-time with the Eccles.
“I knew when my dad was home because I could smell the candles on him when he walked past my bedroom at night,” daughter Katie recalled.
The popular business continued to grow and, soon, the Brown family’s basement became too cramped for the increasing production. The business moved into a rented garage near their Middletown home and acquired its first few employees. Candle Lite—Keystone Candle’s first incarnation—was in business.
The new location quickly attracted the public’s attention. In response, the Browns and Eccles opened a small retail shop at the entrance. A wholesale division kicked off when other storeowners ordered the candles to sell in their own businesses.
Soon, the Eccles closed their gift shops to focus exclusively on making and selling candles. The business outgrew the garage and was moved into its current location on state Route 322/Paxton Street in Swatara Township. Cathy left teaching to work the factory and help with retail after her mother’s death in 1988.
The business continued to grow and was renamed Keystone Candle. The Browns took it on as their own after Art died in 1997. Daughters Kristen and Katie stayed on, too.
“They’re all fabulous, very, very nice people,” Ito stated.
It’s Our Family
Soon enough, the family faced another challenge. In July 2000, a fire gutted the business, just as work began on that year’s stock for Christmas, the busiest season.
“We had just gotten a wax shipment in, and we still had to pay the bill,” Kristen recalled. “It was a total loss.”
Fortunately, a fire sale held the following week attracted so many loyal customers that local police showed up to direct traffic in the area. For the next three years, Keystone Candle operated from a rented location on Derry Street as the permanent site was rebuilt.
“When you have such a devastation like that, you find out who your friends and family really are,” Kristen noted. “It’s one of those things when you just pull together and keep going.”
Today, Cathy manages the business’ bills and checks on a semi-retired basis. Jeff, who recently had knee surgery, comes in most days to help out. The business also employs 15 full- and part-time workers.
Kristen manages the store, and Katie works the factory, as does Kristen’s husband Peter. Kristen and Peter’s teenaged daughters, Taylor and Sydney, work summers there just like Kristen and Katie once did. Peter also writes the company’s blog.
“I’m very picky about making our candles,” Katie said. “Everything has to be perfect. I grew up with this business. It’s our family. That makes it mean even more to me.”
Keystone Candle is located at 7241 Paxton St. (state Route 322 East), Swatara Township. For more information, visit www.keystonecandle.com or call 717-564-2220.