PORT RICHEY — When Wendy Zak's candle and soap shop outgrew a USA Flea Market table, she rented half a booth. Then she took it over.
When the shop outgrew the booth, Zak rented two. But even in a double booth, "we were running out of room." Gulf View Square mall noticed. So Zak met with a leasing agent and signed a lease on Oct. 28, emptied the double booth by Oct. 31 and opened the shop at the mall Nov. 9. It's called Wilma.
Zak, 43, runs the shop with her mother, Brenda Kennedy, 62, who mostly makes the soaps. Zak, whose grandfather was a candlemaker, makes the candles.
In the garage of her grandparents' home in Clearwater, Zak spent afternoons as a kid in front of a big spaghetti pot atop a camping burner, which her grandfather used to melt wax. She helped him make his candles.
"He wouldn't let me handle the wax because it was too hot, but he let me put the color in, and the scent," she said.
On weekends, she stood with him at his own flea market booth. But candles didn't interest her after a while.
"I fell away from it when I turned 15, 16," Zak said. "I got my driver's license. I wanted to do the things teenagers do, go to the beach, hang out with friends."
Her grandpa still wanted her help, but he understood.
He first got sick when Zak was in her early 20s. He was diagnosed with renal cell cancer and had a kidney removed. He still made candles, but the work slowed. He flew to Atlanta every other week for experimental treatment, for about a year, Zak thinks, and finally was declared "in the clear." But in his 80s — after Zak had married and had kids — her grandfather's cancer came back in his remaining kidney.
That's when he stopped making candles. As he neared death in late 2005, he only really wanted one more thing: to watch football on Thanksgiving. And he did.
"The week after Thanksgiving, he passed," Zak said. Her grandfather was 87.
Less than a year later, while her grandmother sorted through all the things he had left behind, she found his candlemaking supplies: blocks of scent and wax, his colors, burners, pots and molds. His wife wasn't attached to any of it.
"I know Wendy wants that," Brenda Kennedy told her mother.
Zak, then a technical writer with two young sons, worked 60 or 70 hours a week and had no time to make candles. So she stored some supplies in her attic and others on shelves in her garage. She didn't touch them for two years.
Then she lost her job.
"I was devastated," she said.
At her husband's suggestion, she took a month off to decide what to do.
"Did I want to find another job in the same field? Did I want to go back to school?" she said. One day while she was trying to decide, she did laundry in her garage, where she noticed her grandfather's supplies.
She called her mother.
"Maybe we should resurrect grandpa's business," she said.
And they did.
"For the first two years we were making candles, we were using his burners and some of his pots," Zak said.
They added bath and body products and outgrew his supplies with their flea market booth. Their business, formerly called Orchid Lake Candles and Soap, continues to grow.
At Wilma, named after Wilma Flintstone, Zak and Kennedy make and sell "just about everything that smells," Zak said: That means candles — made with a custom blend of wax — and wax melts, incense and room sprays, glycerin and cold process soaps, body butters, body mists and bath bombs, all of which are handmade. Zak and Kennedy are tweaking a beard balm and a beard oil they created, products suggested by a bearded friend.
"If you want a certain product in a certain scent in a certain color, we can do it," said Zak. The shop has more than 500 scents.
Carla Smith, a customer who discovered the shop in December, was "a last-minute shopper. I walked in desperate for Christmas gifts."
She bought wax melts and burners and "everybody has just raved" about their gifts, she said. The prices, Smith said, are reasonable — too reasonable. "I kept telling (Zak) to go up. I've had candle parties before, and this is better bang for your buck."
Zak can only assume that other customers agree. Since the move to the mall, she said, they're "busier than ever."
Arleen Spenceley can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 869-6235.