Waxman Candles undertakes remodel after 50 years; other news and notes on downtown happenings

photo by: Chad Lawhorn/Journal-World photo

Waxman Candles at 609 Massachusetts Street is undergoing a major renovation of its facade. The longtime business remains open during construction. Crews are replacing all the 1930s era brick on the building. Plans are for the building to retain its original look for the most part, a Waxman official said.

I don’t know what people are doing with so many candles during the pandemic. (They definitely present some challenges. I caught three masks on fire just trying to blow out my birthday cake.) Regardless, business is booming at downtown Lawrence’s Waxman Candles. It is banging and clanking, too.

Waxman Candles at 609 Massachusetts St. has a major building project underway. For a while, it looked like the landmark store was closed, as the entire front of its building was covered with tarps and signs had been removed. But fear not, candle lovers. The owners of the store simply are having the brick facade of the building replaced.

Deborah Werts, who owns the business along with husband and candlemaker Bob Werts, said the store remains open for walk-in business, despite the pounding and noise of the workers outside. But online business also has soared, more because of the pandemic than the building project.

“We plan to continue to grow our online presence,” Deborah Werts told me. “Not sure if people are burning the candles, but they are buying a lot.”

The business, though, has no plans to get away from the brick-and-mortar retail operations, as evidenced by the investment it is making in literal bricks for the front of the store. Brick restoration work started in August on the back part of the store, Deborah Werts said. Once the holiday shopping season finished, crews moved to the front.

Deborah Werts said the existing bricks dated back to the 1930s and were no longer watertight. The current project will replace the bricks with the same color because “people expect to see the blonde building as they come around onto Mass. from Sixth Street, and because we like it,” she said. The project, however, will replace the cobalt blue accent bricks with a black stone. A new LED sign also is in the works for the building.

The store has been located near the northern entrance to downtown for the last 27 years, and Deborah Werts said there was no plan to change that.

“We love being part of downtown Lawrence and see our retail showroom as a key component to our future growth,” she said via email. “It provides our inspiration from in-store customer feedback, and the building as a whole still fits our needs after 27 years.”

While the store has been in its current location for a little more than a quarter of a century, the business actually celebrated its 50th year in business in 2020. That’s hard to believe. I still vividly remember writing about the store’s 40th anniversary. I had forgotten how much I liked that article, though. Bob Werts had some fun stories to tell about how the business got started as a “kind of hippie thing,” but he also really opened up on the mindset of an entrepreneur.

A couple of my favorite quotes after re-reading the article: “Every business person has to understand that there are times when you make a living and there are times when you make money. And then there are times when you just have to suck it up.”

And this one on worrying: “This is a candle shop. I don’t carry much stress. Worrying is productive if it makes you do something, but worrying for the sake of worrying is no good at all.”

And, finally, one on failure: “Failure is not a bad thing unless it devastates you to the point that you can’t get off the floor. And, if that is the case, it wasn’t a good risk to take.”

Here are a few other items of note from downtown Lawrence:

• An intriguing project appears to be nearing its unveiling. Work has been underway for many months on the large double-storefront building at 728 Massachusetts, which formerly housed the bar Tonic.

As I reported all the way back in February 2018, a business called Logie’s had planned to locate in the building. That’s still the case. Signs are up for Logie’s on Mass. What’s more significant is that the large tarps and plastic sheathing that have been covering the building have been removed. There has been a tremendous amount of work done on the facade of that building. The photo below will do a better job of describing it than me.

photo by: Chad Lawhorn/Journal-World photo

Logie’s on Mass Street, 728 Massachusetts, as pictured in February 2021.

But, what is Logie’s? I hope to do a full article on the business as it opens. But what I reported back in 2018 is that it appears to be a creation of a college town bar operator who has had Logan’s on Sixth in Austin, Texas, and Logan’s in Madison, Wis. But I’ve yet to talk to the owner/operator of this location, so I’m still unclear on exactly what is planned, such as whether there will be a restaurant component to the business or just a bar.

photo by: Chad Lawhorn/Journal-World photo

The Asian Wok, 937 Massachusetts Street, as pictured in February 2021.

• Other, smaller conversions also are happening in downtown. One involves a restaurant shifting its focus from Hawaiian to Chinese. The Pokéloha restaurant at 937 Massachusetts St. is now focusing on Chinese food as the Asian Wok. (The Pokéloha sign is still on the building, but the signs in the window are branding the place as the Asian Wok.) The new menu features a lot of traditional Chinese-American dishes, such as kung pao chicken, Szechuan beef, and some specialty dishes like General Tso’s chicken and something called jalapeño chicken, which includes diced chicken and jalapeños stir-fried in hot pepper sauce.

photo by: Chad Lawhorn/Journal-World photo

The Sloan Law Firm and Mass Street Legal, 831 Massachusetts Street, as pictured in February 2021.

• Some storefronts are undergoing an even more radical change of use. A law firm is taking over the spot formerly occupied by a tanning salon. The Sloan Law Firm and Mass Street Legal is taking the spot at 831 Massachusetts St. that previously was occupied, at least partially, by the KC Tan company. (I feel like there is a lawyer joke for the taking here, but I also fear they’ll retort with a journalist joke.) It looks like construction work is still underway to convert the building into offices. So, no word yet on when it may open. The signs indicate the building ultimately will house the following law firms: Sloan, Eisenbarth, Glassman, McEntire & Jarboe, LLC; Chahine Legal, LLC; and Clarke Law Office. It will be interesting to watch whether more professional service-oriented offices end up taking over retail storefronts in downtown. This isn’t the first, and I bet it won’t be the last.

• There are more closings than I care to keep up with right now, but I will pass along one of note: The Pita Pit, 1011 Massachusetts St., looks like it has closed for good. The store has a sign on its door that says the location is temporarily closed because of the poor business conditions. It said it planned to reopen in early 2021. However, there is also a sign in the window of the business advertising the space for lease.


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