Growing up, Ashley Cook loved to visit the shops at Historic Smithville. She acquired a taste for crafts during the many days she spent at her mother's Upper Township candle shop as a child, and each visit to Smithville to peruse its unique offerings was a treat.
Cook opened her own store, called The Candlewyck Cottage, in Cape May Court House in February 2008. A year and a half later, she moved her growing shop to Woodland Village in Dennis Township, but soon found that location, which closes in winter, too limiting.
She happened to be visiting Smithville during Christmas 2011, when she found a vacancy in the village on the Village Greene. A week later, the contracts had been signed, and she opened in Smithville last March.
Soon to celebrate her first anniversary in Smithville and her store's fifth year overall, Cook said it's clear she has found the right place for her business.
"I love it, I would never leave," the 24-year-old Cook said. "You would have to drag me out of here."
Candlewyck Cottage stocks candles in a variety of scents and sizes that range in price from about $5 to $15. It also offers a make-your-own potpourri station and various items made by local crafters.
Most of Cook's candles are handmade in her Egg Harbor Township home. Unlike most candles, though, Cook's are made from soy-based wax, which burns longer than regular paraffin and doesn't leave the usual black residue.
Her most popular offerings are her cupcake candles, which are hand-shaped to look like the sweet treats. Claire Unger, a friend of Cook's who also works as a cashier a few days per week, said the cupcake candles are her favorite items in the store.
"Little kids come in and try to take a bite out of them," Unger said. "They just smell delicious, and they're beautiful."
Candlewyck Cottage is heir to Cook's mother's shop, called Cranberry Cottage, which closed in 2007 after her mother broke her back in an accident. Much of her initial stock, Cook said, came from Cranberry Cottage.
But while Cook has carried on her mother's tradition, she sets Candlewyck apart my making candles of her own. Cook explained the idea to make her own candles came about in the interest of cutting out the middleman, but in making her own, she quickly found it to be more than she bargained for.
"I figured why buy them if I can figure out how to make them?" Cook said. "At first it was, 'Wow, what did I get myself into?'"
After a period of trial and error, Cook worked out the kinks and has become adept in the process.
Unger, who has worked in the store since it opened in March and also sells her handmade wood art there, has been trying to get Cook to teach her the art of candle making. So far, though, Cook has kept her recipe a secret.
"I have been asking her to show me the ways, Unger said. "It seems like fun. She always tells me it's a pain."
Cook, who started her store when she was 19, said she could not have done it without the help of her parents, both personally and financially. But while their help was vital in getting the shop off the ground, it's her own work that has made it a success, said her father Tim Cook.
"I think your personality means everything," Tim Cook said. "(When) you try to do something like that, you have to be creative. You have to like people, and I think it was a perfect fit for Ashley."
Contact Braden Campbell: