For more than 20 years I’ve been shopping at the delightful candle manufacturer in Innisfil. Nestled in thousands of square feet along Hwy 400 just north of Innisfil Beach Rd, Concord Candles has been like a mecca of delight as I stock up on supplies for the cottage, the home, or as gifts.
I think all of us, whether we need unscented or scented, love candles. Certainly during summer evenings at the cottage, when we let life slow down, we dine under a wrought iron chandelier made by local ironsmith, Charlie Zeihr, and in it are 10 tapers made by employees at Concord Candles in Innisfil. There’s a bit of a ceremony in dining with candlelight… it makes the meal significant. And so, while my First Husband is putting the finishing touches on one of his incredible meals, I’m setting the table and lighting the candles.
In fact, we light candles every night at the cottage. We read with them, we are grateful for them when our itinerant hydro service lets us down. They signify relaxation, family, special occasion, friendships.
When my father in law died a year and a half ago, the staff at Concord Candles was remarkably helpful… we had a multi course celebration dinner for his funeral, complete with burgundy and white tapers to signify his homeland. The retail staff helped locate candlesticks to hold 3 candles, to signify the Latvian flag for our celebration meal. It’s just that kind of store…
And so, you can imagine that I nearly drove off the road last week as I headed southbound on Hwy 400 and saw the “Going out of Business” sign at the front of the building. GOING OUT OF BUSINESS???? I pulled in.
The candlemaking equipment at the back of the shop sits silent, used only when the candlemaker who specializes in carved candles, comes in to finish off a few products. The shelves still hold an incredible array of candleholders, gift items, and boxes of candles. But the bulk wax bins are empty, and several shelves are empty.
And here’s the story…
Concord Candle began in 1908 as a manufacturer of clay brick, then clay pots and crocks and the company naturally morphed into giftware. Bob Michieli bought the business in 1976 and was keen to grow it into a full manufacturing facility with candlemakers producing Canadian product for stores across North America. Candles were imported from the United States into the Concord gift line until 1981 when Concord opened its major candlemaking facility on the Industrial Park Rd in Innisfl at Eighth Line. As well, the location offered its own retail line of candles and giftware from other manufacturers.
Popularity grew. Bus tours would stop en route so people could actually see candles being made, and buy right from the candle company. At one point Concord Candle occupied two buildings, over 30,000 square feet, a true anchor for the industrial park developing in Innisfil Township. There were 60 employees at the plant, 30 involved in candlemaking and the rest in retail, distribution, buying, selling, administration etc. Their website, www.concordcandle.com, proclaims a huge variety of candle product, for every occasion.
The company wholesaled its product to gift store chains, like Bowrings, and to individually owned stores. A quality product, made in Canada, Concord candles were in florist shops, restaurants, hotels, and some hardware stores.
And then came the dollar stores and the big box stores, and the shopper was looking for the best price, the biggest variety, and everything under one roof. The emerging manufacturing base in China, Thailand, Viet Nam, India, and Israel began shipping candles into Canada.
“That really dug into what we do,” says Rob Michieli, son of Bob and now owner of this business. “The dollar stores and big box stores have changed the perception of what the products should cost. People started selecting on price rather than on quality.”
The bus tours stopped coming in. The shopper numbers started to drop.
While the serious candle buyer who wants a longlasting burn continued to search out Concord candles, the less serious buyer began picking up offshore product.
In 1999 Rob took over the business from his retiring father [do founding business owners ever retire?] and the second shop, in Orillia, on Highway 11 near the Memorial AVE exit, was opened. It opened originally as overflow storage space, with a small retail shop to make it worthwhile for cottages to drop in. As volumes began to drop at the turn of this century, Rob moved more and more of the operation to the Orillia location. Now, all the manufacturing is there.
Soon, their lease on the 7400 square will expire and at that point all product remaining will move up to the Orillia location. Rob is optimistic that he’ll find a business wanting his space before his Innisfil lease is up.
For now, retail staff are there to greet customers. It’s difficult for everyone, especially candlemakers like Tina Philpott and Linda Melenhorst who anchored the candle making line for over 17 years.
Rob expects his company to continue to produce high quality product and sell less to a shrinking market. The major candle supplier in this part of the world is becoming a niche market. Rob is able to sum it up this way: we have people come in and want us to do a custom order of a certain candle in a certain colour for a school anniversary, or a wedding or an event like that. We are happy to do that. But there’s a cost to that. They want to be able to have that produced at big box store, mass production prices. It’s just not possible.”
And so? Well, I’ll continue to drive a little farther to Concord Candle, if only to have that Made in Canada quality product for those long, lazy sumer nights when a candle is exactly what we need.