Light at the end of Via de la Valle: Knorr Candle Shop minds its own beeswax

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As the world, and a greater Rancho Santa Fe, passes them by, Claudia Knorr wonders what it takes to shine some light on her family’s internationally recognized business.

“So many people have moved here lately, and they don’t know we exist,” said Knorr, whose family owns, and operates, Knorr Candle Shop and its candle-making factory at Carlsbad. “Or people will stop by and say we’ve been driving by for 20 years and hadn’t stopped by before.

“Everybody thinks we’re the best kept secret in Rancho Santa Fe,” Knorr added. “We are the largest candle shop in the U.S.”

In this age of mass consumption and confusion, fast times and even faster modes of conveyance and communication, Knorr Candle Shop has remained firmly fixed in its roots.

“We’re a tradition,” Knorr continued. “People have come here to get their candles for 85 years. I just want people who didn’t know to know about us. This is beautiful and unique.”

Added Knorr: “I always say you can’t argue in candlelight.”

Claudia Knorr, and husband Steve Knorr, lit the way for the candle shop through the early 2000s, a kind of family legacy begun after Steve’s grandfather, Ferdinand, left his native Poland, and the rule of the Russian Czar, in 1904. Ferdinand, known as Fred, was a master machinist, a tool and die maker building many of the machines that powered the early economy around the emerging city of San Diego.

Steve died i 2015. Nancy Knorr, his daughter, the great-granddaughter of Ferdinand Knorr, who started the hand-crafted family business back in 1928, now manages the shop

The first of the North County Knorrs also developed a fascination for bees. He bought 22 acres “to put his bees on in 1923” at what is now 14096 Via de la Valle, according to Claudia Knorr. He produced an improved honeycomb for his bees and started producing dripless, smokeless candles with a gentle fragrance that became all the rage, she said.

“He had so much beeswax, he started to make candles,” Claudia Knorr continued. “The Rancho Santa Fe Inn and Chino Farm were the only things out here. The factory grew. He established the candle shop in 1928. Everyone built around here after that.”

Family affair

Henry Knorr, Fred’s son, and his wife Judy, took over the operation in 1950. Henry Knorr, now 98, also a master tool and die maker, continues to be a daily, and active presence around the shop, making new machines, advising those who pass by on beekeeping technique and honeymaking.

His father, Ferdinand “Fred” Knorr, a machinist who specialized in tools and dies, moved his family onto the 20-acre Del Mar farm back in 1925.

The factory outgrew the Via de la Valle location, so the family moved it to Carlsbad near Palomar Airport in 1994. It’s a wholesale and mail order operation, employing 12 people year-round with more than 20 workers during the hectic holiday candle-making season.

 The candle makers holiday season starts at Halloween and continues through New Year’s Day. About 60 percent of the shop’s business is done during that period, Knorr said. However, she wouldn’t disclose annual sales figures for the professional candle-making world is surprisingly small in number and highly competitive

That holiday rush is then, but this is now, the candle loving off-season when people wander in off the heavily traveled road to stock up on candles and related gift items. Those in the know head to the shop to stock up on beekeeping supplies available in the back lot. A design outlet owned by some friends also occupies the space.

“We’re like a huge hive,” Knorr said with a laugh.

Slow doesn’t mean stop though.

Sometimes people come in for a candle, or two. Other times, they come in to buy candles seemingly by the pallet-load. One well-appointed lady buys $1,700 worth of candles at a time, intended to fill her houses at Rancho Santa Fe and Las Vegas, Knorr said.

“People usually come in here for dinner candles, scented candles for kitchens and gifts, new candles,” Knorr added. “But you just never know. Some people will come here from all over for just one scent. We also carry so many candle holders.”

Candles with crosses, a more Gothic look, are quite in vogue, according to Knorr, along with sculpted candles, household candles, candles in shells and shells in candles. Also very hot these days are wedding invitation candles with the wedding invitation actually emblazoned on the candle.

Then, there are “naked lady candles”, actually quite G-rated, birthday candles, floating candles, sunflower candles, butterfly candles, and now even the quite popular vegetable candles.

That’s correct, vegetable candles, candles made to resemble asparagus, peas in a pod and other non-edible versions of fruits and vegetables.

One of the more popular items includes fruit inside the candles lending sweet scents to the air while burning slowly into the night. These include sweet citrus, balsam and lemon peels. Another new trend is for candles designated specifically for different rooms in a house.

“I’m always trying to find new and unique candles,” Knorr said. “All the great candle makers have gone out of business. Everyone is going offshore to manufacture gifts and candles. I am proud of our product and that ours are made in America.”

Scented jar candles sell for $20 to $25, and burn 40 to 60 hours. Larger pillar candles go for $3 to $50, depending on size. A container filled with beeswax costs $40.

The best selling scents on candles include tobacco, lavender, orange, vanilla, and red curry.

Industrious is the key word for the shop and the candle making process. It takes 160,000 bees traveling 150,000 miles to collect enough nectar to produce one pound of beeswax. One pound of beeswax makes one pair of solid 12-inch tapers. The candles burn at a rate of 1 1/2-inches per hour.

The Knorrs buy their beeswax in bulk. They bring in 500,000 pounds of the stuff annually, trucked in on giant pallets.

The property sold five years ago and the candle factory was allowed to remain, a rare commercial use in a residentially-zoned neighborhood. There are no longer hives on the property as they bring in their all- natural beeswax from a supplier but everything is still done the old-fashioned way by hand, the same way Fred did it back in 1928. For many years Henry maintained the machines he built himself until he was no longer able to physically.

A typical day at the shop featured people dropping by in drips and drabs.

Linda Pickering, from Pauma Valley made a special swing by the candle shop to show her longtime friend Linda Hackert, visiting from Sheridan, Wyo., a thing or two about local ambiance.
“We came here just for the candles,” Hackert said. “It’s just a fabulous place.”

Jody Moynihan, of Carmel Valley, was trying to gather items for a Cathedral Catholic High School fundraiser later this month. “I usually come around holiday time, Christmas, Halloween,” she said. “They have some unique items. It’s fun to shop here.”

That’s all good, but the Knorrs feel they have something so unique, so integral to the area’s development, history and shopping that they hope more people will get off the road and stop by their shop.

The shop is open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily. For more information, visit the Web site at www.knorrcandleshop.com or call (858) 755-2051.

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