November 28, 2006
All is peaceful in Bob Werts' workplace. The mood is more monastery than factory-thick drips of warm wax, hushed remarks, and KJHK or NPR soft in the background. But the back room at Waxman hasn't always been home to such tranquility. In the late 1970s, Werts employed over two dozen people to serve 600 accounts around the world. Werts' product? Handmade candles, in an astounding assortment of shapes, sizes, colors, styles, and fragrances.
In 1979, Werts kissed his wholesale accounts goodbye. Fall-out from the 1973 oil crisis had skyrocketed the price of paraffin wax-which is petroleum-based-and Werts had doubts about the direction and character of his business. He had become a traveling salesman, when what he enjoyed most was making candles. Now in its 35th year, Waxman is a successful, widely respected Lawrence business. On the first Sunday in December, as he's done since 1974, Werts hosts an open house. The store gets a good cleaning, the staff dresses up, they lay out some goodies, and the mysteries of the ancient craft of candle making are revealed to the public.
Street Level shadows Werts as he dips holiday candles and waxes warmly on finding his niche, tapering his focus, and becoming a pillar of the community.