A Whidbey woman’s stress-relieving hobby has turned into a new activity for Pioneer Way patrons.
Megan Varner-Duckett, a Whidbey resident of three years, recently opened a storefront for her candle business in downtown Oak Harbor.
Varner Candle Company may already be a familiar name to those who frequent island markets or regularly scour the web for Whidbey-made fragrances, but at her new locale, Varner-Duckett will do more than sell her products — she will facilitate an opportunity for visitors to make candles of their own.
The new Varner Candle Company location is a candle bar, where visitors can customize their own candle from start to finish and pour the wax themselves. Varner-Duckett also serves alcohol on site, so guests can sip while they pour.
When Varner-Duckett first got into candle making, she never dreamed it would become a business, let alone a full-time job. She first turned to the pursuit as a creative outlet and means of relieving stress from her corporate job.
Born and raised in Seattle, Varner-Duckett spent most of her career recruiting software engineers for large tech companies. With the pressures of the corporate world weighing on her, she ordered a candle making kit online. She’d always loved candles, she said in an interview, joking about the untold quantities of money she’d spent on them throughout her life.
It was love at first pour. Her new hobby quickly turned into a business. She began selling her candles online and in markets around the island, including the Whidbey Island Crafters’ Market on Pioneer Way.
When she got laid off from her corporate job, she knew she had a decision to make — search for a new job in her field, or turn her side hustle into a full-time gig.
“It was scary, but I was like, ‘If I don’t do this now, I’m not going to do it ever. If I go back to corporate, I won’t ever have an opportunity like this,’” she said. “So I took the chance.”
Varner-Duckett knew she wanted to do more than sell her product; she also wanted to provide an experience for visitors to downtown Oak Harbor. She decided to offer the same experience that ultimately became her creative outlet and led the formation of her business; she opened a candle bar.
At Varner Candle Company’s new storefront location at 810 Pioneer Way, patrons can make their own custom candles. Visitors select a container or vessel for their creation, pick fragrances, pour the wax and design the label for a unique candle that they can pick up at the store once the wax has set.
Varner-Duckett also sells her own candles at the store, as well as art and products from other Whidbey artisans. Her candles, both those she sells and those poured by customers at the candle bar, are made with completely natural soy wax and wooden wicks.
Though being the face of the action is a departure from her usual behind-the-scenes work, Varner-Duckett said, many of her skills from her past line of work have translated well to her new business.
She has focused on creating community partnerships, both with the other artists she consigns with in her store and with her neighbors on Pioneer Way. She partnered with Zanini’s Deli and the Tipsy Jellyfish to auction a combined food, drink and candle making package at a recent Chamber of Commerce event. On May 13 and 14, Varner Candle Co. will partner with Perennial View Design and Whidbey Wonka’s Chocolate Co. to offer special Mother’s Day packages that include a custom candle, a floral arrangement, a box of chocolates and a beverage.
She also runs an ongoing promotion in support of the Whidbey Island chapter of I Support the Girls, a nonprofit organization that provides bras, underwear and menstrual hygiene products to women and girls in need. Anyone who brings in an eligible item to donate receives a 20% discount on the candle making experience.
The candle bar opened March 24. For Varner-Duckett’s part, operating her new storefront has been “a dream come true,” she said, joking that she feels as though she’s living out the plot of a movie.
“It’s the most fulfilling thing that I’ve ever done,” she said. “I can’t wait to wake up every morning to come here.”