A delightful candle-making boutique flickers from inside Selden Market in Downtown Norfolk. The space ignites your senses with calming and comforting aromatic products including candles, room sprays and wax melts. Each candle is handmade and emits an original scent, transporting you to Cuddle Weather, Between the Sheets or This is My Self Care.
Erica Parham is the entrepreneur, warm presence and candlemaker behind Sugar & Grace. She has nurtured her business for the last three years and she shared what the road has looked like in launching her brand — as well as how much love and support she has felt from customers, especially amidst a global pandemic.
How It All Began
Before Erica opened Sugar & Grace, she spent 12 years as a nurse. “I have always wanted to help people but I have also always been creative. I love to paint, make flower arrangements and bake. Four years ago, I was making cakes for events but I knew there was something bigger for me to pursue,” she shares.
At the time, Erica, a self-claimed candle hoarder, was experiencing painful headaches, which became the gateway into candle making and the initiative behind launching a business. She took an online course while working full-time as a nurse at a doctor’s office. “I recently found my notebook from three years ago and as I was flipping through it I thought, ‘wow, this really started from nothing in my kitchen!’”
She created a space at Sugar & Grace to build and foster relationships with her customers through education and creativity. She says, “I am nurturing with passion. I feel I am still helping people by educating them on soy candles.” She explains how most people do not know candles are toxic. Many candles purchased in stores include paraffin and platelets which are ingredients that trigger headaches, respiratory issues and allergies. “The main thing I do differently with candle making is use only soy wax,” Erica says. Soy candles burn longer and cleaner and do not give you the black ring around the jar. While not commonly known, the dark, smokey reminiscences in a candle are signs of toxins and are bad to breathe. Erica conducted hours of extensive research to better understand the ins and outs of candle making and we have to say, the outcome is beautiful.
Erica hand makes all of the candles, body scrubs, bath salts and room sprays found in her shop. Her candle making process is nurtured and thoughtfully considered at each phase. While it may be lengthy as she so kindly expressed, it is worthwhile given the results. She explains, “I start with the feeling… How do I want people to feel? Then, I will move onto scent choices and sample testing. Lastly, I will explore name ideas and bring in color.” Sniffing the fragrances of each candle conveys the heart and intention Erica pours into each creation. “I want people to feel a certain way and I want to make a connection with each [product]. It is important to show our complexity – both visually and aromatically.”
She collaborated on a scent with our friends at The Stockpot, located just down the hall from her at the market. “The process never gets old. I created a smell of fresh granola for them and they seemed pretty excited about it,” she says with a grin.
Seasonally, Erica launches timely scents about a month before the new season. “I try to create a vibe. For example, this spring and summer, I wanted to exude a fresh, light and tropical vibe while we were quarantined to help people feel like they were somewhere else. I have people still asking for those!” she exclaims.
Sugar & Grace is a self-care shop welcoming guests to unwind and treat themselves. “Come in and pamper yourself or someone else. Make your own candles and purchase goodies from other woman-owned businesses,” Erica explains. The Candle Bar invites friends and families to whip up customized scents and make their own candles. You begin by choosing a collection of fragrance oils, which Erica recommends choosing three max. Then, you warm up your soy wax and mix in the oils. Finally you set your candle wick into your jar of choice and pour in your mixture. The candle needs to set for approximately 45 minutes to completely harden. You will enjoy the smell of your handmade candle for hours as the 6 ounce size will burn for 45 hours and 9 ounces will burn for nearly 65 hours.
For flower lovers, build your own bouquet with a rainbow of options to choose from including roses, ranunculus and sunflowers. Leave with your custom arrangement or a new favorite house plant.
Erica has curated products, outside of her own, in her store to support over 20 like-minded female businesses. “Some brands I have had a longtime relationship with and some I have found on Instagram — really amazing brands you would not typically find. I love supporting their business as well.”
From the beginning of her process, Erica is focused on how her customers feel. “I want people to come in and leave feeling good. You never know what someone is dealing with, and I want them to leave feeling better.” She continues, “I also want people to stop by and feel like they can make time for themselves.” Finding a place of comfort and zen is certainly easy to do with the products nestled on the shelves and Erica at the helm.
Proudest Moment & Biggest Obstacle
She has felt the most proud when opening her storefront. As a military family, they have made sacrifices which can easily delay or alter plans. “It is easy to wait until the next time and it kind of never happens. I feel really proud to have opened a store on my own and for my kids to see this,” she explains.
The biggest obstacle has been juggling business and life. Erica says, “I try to find a balance but I do not think there really is one. Also I am trying to relinquish control. I am used to doing everything myself but two girls have joined my team to help in the shop.”
Advice for Aspiring Business Owners
To those considering starting their own small business, Erica advises to dig for courage and give it a shot. “Just start! It will never be perfect at the beginning but you learn as you go. A lot of people want to start grand and instantly but if you wait for the perfect start, it may never happen.” She continues, “Start, go along with the process and fix things as you go.”
Future Goals + Happenings
In big news! This month, Erica expanded the shop to a bigger storefront in the market, which has given her the ability to grow her inventory in the shop and join her love of candles with plants and florals!
How to Experience All That Sugar & Grace Has to Offer
Get a whiff for yourself! Visit the shop in the Selden Market located in Downtown Norfolk. Business hours are Friday and Saturday from 10 a.m. – 5 p.m. and Sundays from 11 a.m. – 5 p.m.