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Pilgrim Candle

30 Years of Burning Brightly

Article by Maureen Sullivan

Photography by Hannah Josephine Photography & Kat Kattler Photography

Originally published in Westfield City Lifestyle

It was 1992, and Joe Shibley, facing a layoff from his job, decided to go back to his entrepreneurial roots – after graduating from college, he had been in the ice cream business with his father. This time, he chose the candle-making business, and 30 years later the wicks are still burning brightly.

Joe did research into the industry and decided there was room for another candle maker. He experimented with waxes and fragrances, asking neighbors their opinions on the various scents. As Joe became more encouraged, he knew his product was ready for market, and Pilgrim Candle was born. He shifted production from his home to a factory at the Mill at Crane Pond. Joe’s idea was to sell Pilgrim Candle products wholesale to small gift shops throughout the country. He also sold candles to friends during the holiday season, which led to the idea for a retail store.

The store opened at the Mill at Crane Pond with his wife Donna at the helm. She added candle accessories and gift items. Then it came time to expand, and Pilgrim’s candle-making operation moved to two floors of a historic building at 36 Union Ave. The retail store eventually moved to the first floor there.

Fundraising and corporate gifts became other avenues of expansion for Pilgrim Candle, along with the opening in South Hadley of another retail location and the acquisition of Main Street Candlery in Chicopee.

In 2000, Donna and Joe purchased Bismarck Place, a former hotel next door to 36 Union Ave. The couple take pride in their restoration of 36 Union Ave as well as the old hotel, now home to several businesses, including a massage therapy practice, yoga, dance, and photography studios, as well as a café. In fact, Pilgrim Candle’s retail store moved to Bismarck Place for a time before relocating its previous space at 36 Union Ave. Donna said longtime customers are experiencing a bit of nostalgia when they visit the store
now that it is back in its former space. With a refreshed interior and the addition of cozy
clothing, more specialty foods, and kitchen gadgets prompted by the pandemic, Pilgrim Candle is responding to lifestyle trends.

To showcase the expanded line of specialty foods and kitchen wares, Donna has created a “charcuterie table” display, artfully arranged with jams, cheese boards, olive oils, and more. “We’ve also refreshed our brand with the help of an intern from Westfield State University,” she said.

The holiday season is a special time at Pilgrim Candle. Having kicked off the season on November 17 with the Holiday Stroll, a vendor marketplace with local artisans and crafters in Bismarck Place, and Thankful Hearts, an annual fundraiser for the Westfield Food Bank held at the Pilgrim Candle store. With new marketing efforts and a presence on social media, Donna said she’s prepared for “an over-the-top holiday season.” “This is the perfect year to venture out and shop local – there are unusual finds– not just at Pilgrim Candle, but you’ll find unique shopping experiences in Westfield. Come out and support the many women-owned businesses here,” Donna said.

While much has changed in the years since Joe Shibley made the company’s first candle, the price of Pilgrim Candles has not changed much. “We’re selling value and high quality, we use the best waxes, perfume and raw materials,” Donna said. As Pilgrim Candle celebrates its 30th anniversary, Donna said she and Joe are proud that their son Paul is working alongside his father in production and is poised to carry on the business with his sister Mia.

Pilgrim Candle
36 Union Ave., Westfield