MOUNT VERNON – Those perusing the streets of downtown Mount Vernon these days have plenty of sensory options.
Visitors can see a live theater performance; hear a concert; taste a locally sourced meal; or feel the products inside the district’s long list of specialty shops.
Now, they’ll have the opportunity to fully engage another sense: smell.
Downtown Mount Vernon’s newest business, The Scent Life, opened last weekend. The shop at 135 S. Main St. is a partner store of the Columbus-based The Candle Lab. Owners Angie and Jason Merckling said they believe the business will provide an entirely new experience for downtown visitors.
“I think it brings something different,” Angie said. “Even when we would come down and visit, when we were thinking about doing this, we walked into several of the shops and there wasn’t anything like it.”
The Scent Life allows customers to make their own candles (or other fragrant products) by blending multiple scents together. The process is engaging and personal, the Mercklings said, perfect for dates, family or group outings, or just a night on the town.
When customers walk into The Scent Life, located near the northwest corner of West Gambier Street and South Main Street, they’ll see a wall of 90 candles. These candles each contain one scent – some of them more conventional, others not (among them are bourbon, campfire, mango and coffee).
Customers can purchase candles off the wall, but they’re encouraged to make their own (it costs $15 either way). Those pouring their own are asked to smell all the candles and write down their favorite scents, regardless of similarity.
They will then select a product of their choice – scents can be blended into candles, room sprays, fragrance oils, rediffusers and wax tarts – and approach the bar, which sits on the south side of the shop.
From there, the store’s employees – or "scent guides" – will walk customers through the blending process. They’ll create groups of three scents from the customers’ list and allow them to explore different combinations until they find the right one. The scent guides will talk customers through the process – why they like certain combinations, why they dislike others – in order to craft a unique, personal product.
“We want to provide the ultimate and best customer service to any customer that walks in the door – where they feel welcomed, they feel respected, appreciated, and that we’re really involved with them through the whole process,” Angie said. “[It’s] not just, ‘Hey, you’re here to make a candle or buy a candle’ and we just leave them alone. It’s really about the interaction.”
Customers will then blend the fragrance oils of their selected scents, and they’ll be able to determine how much of each scent is involved. Once the fragrance is set, scent guides will pour it into a customer-selected container and mix it with soy wax (which burns cleaner, longer, and is “truer to scent than other types of candles,” Angie said).
Customers will be able to write which scents were used on their candle container, and are encouraged to get creative with their label design.
“There was a little girl in here last night that colored the whole thing,” Jason said last week with a laugh.
It takes approximately 90 minutes for the candle wax to settle. When the process is complete, if customers are dining or shopping nearby, store employees can bring the candle to the customer. Candles can also be picked up later or the next day.
The Scent Life is open Tuesday-Friday from 1-8 p.m., and on Saturdays from 11 a.m.-8 p.m. The store will be open Sunday and Monday by appointment only.
The Mercklings said they believe their shop will bring a new, interactive experience to the downtown district. It will also increase commerce at other nearby businesses, Jason said, as customers are encouraged to grab a meal or shop during their 90-minute wait time.
“There’s a lot of foot traffic, people are walking around and window browsing,” Jason said. “So if you want to come in and you need to pick something up, we can do that. If you’re looking for a night out, kind of a unique experience – whether it’s dating or it’s team-building – it’s just something neat to go out and experience.”
While some may think of The Scene Life as just a candle shop, the Mercklings claim it’s much more than that. When a customer smells the candle they created at The Scent Life, they’ll be reminded of the time they made it.
That scent, in a way, allows those memories to live forever.
“It’s something that you were a part of,” Jason said.
MEET THE OWNERS: Jason and Angie aren’t from Mount Vernon, but they like what they see.
“We live in Centerburg, but we’re in Mount Vernon all the time,” Angie said. “We really wanted to be in this area.”
Angie, who works for Grange Insurance in downtown Columbus, and Jason, who works for United Health Care in Dublin, started talking about opening their own candle-making business a year ago.
Angie’s mother and stepfather started their The Candle Lab partner store in Hocking Hills eight years ago, and the shop has played host to countless family get-togethers over the years.
Jason and Angie would take their four children down for weekend trips, and they fell in love with the candle-making process. They decided they wanted to start their own partner store, and downtown Mount Vernon seemed like the perfect place for it.
“We were always wanting to be in this area…” Jason said.
“Close to the square and on Main Street,” Angie added with a smile.
After learning about how to start a partner business with The Candle Lab last winter, Angie and Jason “started becoming more serious” about the business idea in June. That’s when their realtor showed them the recently vacated property at 135 S. Main St.
Four tenants share the address; Lincoln Douglas Investments occupies the first-floor corner space, The Scene Life is next door, and there are two other tenants upstairs. According to the Mercklings, Creative Foundations used to house administrative offices in The Scent Life’s current location, but the organization had moved out before the couple began looking.
When Angie and Jason stepped inside the building this summer, Angie said it was love at first sight.
“We came and looked at it, and when we first came in, we were like, ‘This is perfect,’” she recalled.
The property features a wide window at the front of the store, which would allow customers to peek inside and see the candle-making process first-hand. Its cozy feel also fit Angie and Jason’s vision of an intimate environment.
That said, a lot of work needed to be done. After selecting the property, the Mercklings and nearby family members spent months transforming the store into what it is today. The goal was to give the business “an industrial, farmhouse-type look and feel,” Angie said.
Jason’s father did most of the construction and electrical work, while he and Angie came in after work and on the weekends to perform other tasks.
The goal was to open last Friday – a day before Jason and Angie’s 17th wedding anniversary – and they pulled it off. The couple thanked the community for its help in the opening process.
“The friends and support that we’ve gotten from family, friends and people in the community already has been amazing. I didn’t know what to expect with that,” said Angie, a Columbus native.
“I mean with friends and family, you know what to expect. But even just the quick support that we’ve had from a few folks in the community has just been amazing. It’s been overwhelming to us and we’re very grateful for that.”
Jason and Angie said they will be keeping their respective full-time jobs while operating The Scent Life. The store currently has two employees, and the couple plans to help out on evenings and weekends.
The Mercklings acknowledged that starting a small business is a “challenge” and a “risk,” but both felt long ago that it was time for another chapter in their professional lives.
“I think we’re at a point in our lives where we’re ready to take that leap of faith and step into it as a journey, an adventure,” Angie said.
The business could add to the couple's retirement fund, but it could also provide a unique and formative experience for the family’s three young children, who will grow up around the shop.
Owning the business will allow the Mercklings to spend more time together as a family, Jason said, and it could eventually be passed on if such an opportunity arises.
But that’s not the most important thing to the Mercklings right now. What the couple wants, more than anything, is to get involved with the Mount Vernon community.
They look forward to participating in First Fridays and the Christmas Walk. They want their corner shop to become a place where people make memories – a place that adds to the positive energy of Mount Vernon’s developing downtown scene.
“We really want to see it become successful,” Angie said. “We want people to have the same fun experience that we’ve had.”