Thursday, April 19, 2012

Hob-Snobbing--Shedding light on Detroit one candle at a time

If your goal is to shed the light all over the city, a good place to start would be with a candle company. But for Tonette Katrese Arnold, owner of the Detroit Candle Co., the best place to start was with herself.

Just three years ago, Tonette was unemployed and homeless. She was grieving over her mother’s death and suffering in an abusive relationship. She’d left her 15-year job as the branch manager of a bank to be by her mother’s side, only to find herself unable to land another job.

“I was completely broken,” said Tonette. “I’d lost weight. I thought I was dying, but the doctor said it was stress.”

Her aunt suggested that she get serious about candle making, a hobby she’d tried to pursue while caring for her terminally ill mother. “I didn’t want to take my aunt’s advice,” said Tonette. “My motivation died with my mother. But I finally did it to pass the time.”

Today there’s no trace of Tonette’s personal struggles in the charming shop in the Artist’s Village at Grand River and Lahser. The shop is a heaven of delightful scents – from “Silly Rabbit” that smell like Trix cereal, to candles that look like canned peaches, frothy coffee drinks or martinis. Ranging from $2 - $15, her candles are eco-friendly, hand poured and 100 percent soy. Tonette loves to hold workshops for area children. She also carries an array of gifts, hand-crafted jewelry and, of course, Detroit Snob tees!

Tonette is still amazed at how quickly her shop, which just opened October 1, 2011, has become a popular stop for visitors to the Old Redford Theater, Motor City Java House and Sweet Potato Sensations, all surrounding businesses that are making the Artist Village a Detroit destination. It’s a far cry from selling candles at art fairs and bazaars, as she’d been doing part time for nearly 10 years.

Friendship and business over coffee

Tonette had been selling her candles at fairs and in small booths at bazaars, but moving into her own shop wasn’t exactly her own idea. A few years ago she had agreed to participate in an event with the proprietor of Motor City Java House, Alicia Marion. Marion manages the building that houses both Motor City Java House and the Detroit Candle Co.

“I had two black eyes and couldn’t come to the event,” said Tonette, recalling her abusive relationship. “So I made up an excuse. Alicia said to me “I know you don’t know me, but I feel secure enough to say that I know you’re lying to me.’”

Tonette admitted to her troubles, and Alicia became a supporter and friend. To apologize, Tonette made Alicia a candle that looked like a cappuccino. “She called me back and said, ‘Do you think you can manage retail?’” said Tonette.

Maybe Alicia recognized herself in Tonette. She, too, was a single mother who had left an abusive situation. Her job at the Troy Marriott introduced her to the service industry. As a volunteer, she became interested in the Motor City Blight Busters, a group that was transforming the west side. She ended up serving as an executive assistant with the organization for 13 years—and most of that time, she dreamed of opening a quaint little coffee shop in the area.

“I traveled a lot,” said Alicia. “I love bed and breakfasts, I love placed like Ann Arbor, Idlewild, Atlanta and New Orleans – everywhere I went I brought back ideas to Detroit. ”

It took her five years of fundraising—and the support of Motor City Blight Busters, the group that developed the Artists Village-- to be able to open the shop on Angels’ Night 2011. “People said I was crazy to open a shop in the middle of the worst economic times in history,” said Alicia. “They told me just to make it a chicken joint—no one is out buying coffee. But I had a vision.”

When she met Tonette, Alicia immediately recognized a fellow “Queen,” (Alicia calls all the women she meets “Queen.”) She reached out as a friend and business mentor, and now the two run adjoining shops. The doorway between the businesses is always kept open. The cozy, intimate feeling is like a sitcom set, as their customers and neighborhood regulars flow in and out all day.

Both entrepreneurs see themselves as Detroit Snobs.

“I’m not buying into poverty and hopelessness,” said Tonette. “A lot of people who come into these doors say, ‘Wow, this is like a shop in Birmingham, not Detroit!’ That’s why I love Detroit Snob. That’s the attitude behind wanting to see things get better right here in Detroit.”

Alicia agreed. “Detroit Snob doesn’t mean that I think I’m better than anyone else,” she said. “But at the same time, I don’t want to see the negative energy that Detroit gets saddled with. Being a Detroit Snob is simply having an attitude of pride.”

Detroit Candle Co. is located at 17340 Lahser Rd., Detroit, MI

Desiree Cooper will be speaking to the April meeting of Women in Communications at Motor City Java House, 17336 Lahser Rd., Detroit, MI on Tuesday, April 25, 2011 at 7 p.m. Non-members welcome! Register here.


Anonymous said...

My prayers go out to you to have major success!!!! When I come back to visit my home town this will be a first stop!!!! Good luck and God Bless! Now it's time to share this article!!!!

jgeorge said...

Wow I am so PROUD of the two of you you Guys ROCK. Java House, Detroit Candle Company and Blight Busters....Team Work that Works. Peace Always,John DETROIT George.

Shannon said...

What an exciting story!

R.Miles MT said...

I'm so happy and proud for Tonette & the Detroit Candle Co. You have rose like a phoenix from the ashes of the past and know that you're going far...Anything that you conceive & believe you can achieve!!!! Rustics Forever!!!