Story and Photos by Karen Carr Keefe
Senior Contributing Writer
Joshua Thomas was well into a creative career when he discovered the passion for candlemaking that brought Grand Island Candle Company to life.
The reasonably priced candles he makes by hand in his home studio celebrate the scents and evoke the sounds and character of neighborhoods in Grand Island and Western New York.
“I’ve got my master’s degree in photography … and that was my career before COVID hit. That kind of ended that, and that’s why all this happened,” he said. “We were burning so many candles and spending so much money, I said ‘I’ve got to be able to do that.’ ”
He spent six months learning to make candles in 2020, got his supplies, researched and experimented to get everything just right, then officially launched his business in February 2021.
Western New York – and Grand Island in particular – benefit from Thomas’ flair in finding just the right blend of fragrance to capture the essence of an iconic neighborhood. Thomas said residents of those neighborhoods are often surprised and delighted that there’s a candle named after their section of town – or even the street where they live.
South Bridge, Sandy Beach, Ferry Village and even Orchard Road all have their own evocative candle scents. There are 40 different blended candles that boast local place names, with more in development. They all come in a creamy blend of carefully crafted soy, bearing fragrance that is well researched and tested. And they all come from the imagination, intuition and marketing savvy of Joshua Thomas. Since founding the company, he has sold 2,460 candles.
Raised in Montana – with stints in California and Georgia, where he graduated with a master’s degree in fine arts from the Savannah College of Art and Design – Thomas moved to Grand Island in 2016 to be near family. In the imposed isolation of COVID-19, Thomas developed an idea that grew into a business he loves.
“Everything from beginning to end – from the designing of the label, the making of the candles to the photography of the website is all me,” he said.
You can see the range of his products and where to find them on his website, grandislandcandle.com.
Grand Island Candle Company candles are sold at Seema's Boutique at Island Ship Center, 1879 Whitehaven Road.
His candles are sold online and in four local venues: Seema’s Boutique at Island Ship Center, 1879 Whitehaven Road; the Island Shoppe, 1966 Whitehaven Road; in the Taste New York Market at the Western New York Welcome Center at 1999 Alvin Road; and at Thin Ice Gift Shop in Buffalo’s Elmwood Village.
Island Shoppe owner Josephine Ciffa sells Thomas’ candles in her store that’s stocked with Grand Island-themed souvenirs and gift items.
“They’re doing fabulous,” she said about sales of Thomas’ candles at her store. “Everybody loves them. … ‘Sandy Beach’ is one of the most popular ones, so I always have those extra in stock.”
“When people walk in the door, they love the aroma,” she added. “A lot of people buy them for their homes, and tons of people buy them for gifts and they send them away to their families who have moved out of town. It’s very nostalgic for people who are out of town living in different areas now.”
Thomas said there is free, same-day or next-morning, delivery on Grand Island. He also ships his candles all across the country, with many repeat customers and a lot of Grand Island natives, many of whom now live in Florida.
Soy candles are a choice he made because he said the result is ecofriendly: “Soy is derived from soybeans. There’s no added chemicals to it. Nothing extra. It’s a clean-burning wax. Paraffin is a wax that’s added to candles a lot because it boosts fragrance, it makes it burn longer … it makes a nice smooth top, so it’s visually appealing, but it makes petroleum, and that burns and it’s a bad fume to have.”
Thomas also uses clean fragrance oils, lead-free wicks – “whatever it takes to make a healthy candle.” He doesn’t add any extra chemicals or dyes, and uses a natural, cream-colored candle in an amber glass jar.
To match fragrance with locale, he takes a whiff of a fragrance sample that’s described as having a quality such as citrus or floral, for example, then he checks a list of street names of Grand Island.
“I’ll go through … and see if anything kind of matches up with the description,” he said.
Thomas points out a candle. “This one, I decided to name ‘Shawnee’ for the North Tonawanda area,” he said. “ ‘Meadow Lane,’ that’s French lilac. … ‘Delaware Park’ smells like fresh cut grass,” so some of them are very literal. I’ve got a ‘Hertel Avenue’ that smells like an old barbershop because that’s the first place I got my hair cut in Buffalo.” He describes the Ferry Village candle fragrance as apple, maple and bourbon.
“I wanted to be local,” Thomas said. “I’ve started branching out into Niagara Falls and different Western New York (locales), but I’ve tried to get mostly Grand Island.”
He explained Grand Island reminds him of his hometown in Montana. Thomas is inspired by his grandfather, who was a fishing guide, first in the Adirondacks in New York, and then in Montana.
“It’s so great to be connected to Western New York and the area,” he said.
Joshua Thomas of Grand Island Candle Company produces ecofriendly candles in his home studio on Grand Island. The hand-blended, fragrant soy candles bear the names of Grand Island neighborhoods and streets. The company website, grandislandcandle.com, says, “Our candles are inspired by Western New York, the moments and memories; lifestyle and mood.”