OAK BLUFFS -- Linda Re was busy working in the Sharks Landing bait and tackle shop that she owns with her husband, but she wasn't fulfilled.
"I was getting really bored selling worms all day," she said. "I saw 52 percent of the people who came into our shop -- the women -- just turn around and walk out. It made me crazy. I figured we had to find a way to keep them here."
Re (pronounced "ray") found a way. She parlayed her background in graphic arts and design and a hankering to "make something people would be hungry for" into the Martha's Vineyard Candle Company. Now people tell Linda and Joe Re that they have "the best-smelling bait shop in the world."
The candle operation started small in 1999, taking up one shelf in the tackle shop. But Linda 's idea to create a series of candles that reflected the towns of the Vineyard was an immediate hit. The Oak Bluffs candle has a gingerbread scent, and its label features a gingerbread cottage from the famous colony there .
"People like it that the island town candles are realistic of the place, but whimsical, too," said Linda, 50, who creates the artwork for all the company's candles. "I like things a little quirky. Being typical is boring to me."
The series of eight Vineyard candles (the six towns of the island plus the villages of Menemsha and Chappaquiddick) features island icons such as the cliffs at Gay Head ( Aquinnah Sunset ), the Edgartown Light ( Edgartown Ocean Breeze ), and the vines for which the island was named by explorer Bartholomew Gosnold ( West Tisbury Wild Grape ).
The candle venture now takes up nearly half the shop. And it turns out placement has helped business.
"A lot of our customer base is men," Linda said. "If they overspend on fishing tackle -- and a lot of them do -- they feel guilty about it and buy candles for their wife."
The Island Towns Series has been augmented by an ever-expanding selection of scents (35 and counting) and other products, such as aromatherapy fragrance tins and soaps, but the candle set remains far and away the company's top seller. Joe , 55, estimates that the company's gross sales have risen 20 to 25 percent in each of the past four years.
"I mean, how many Black Dog T-shirts can you buy?" Linda said of the Vineyard restaurant and its ubiquitous clothing line. "I was trying to find something, and I realized that no one had a candle company here. It's growing and growing and growing. People want something done by hand, done by an artisan. Plus a lot of people are allergic to the commercial scents."
The Res are attracting customers from all over, including Western Massachusetts, home to Yankee Candle Co., which calls itself the largest manufacturer of scented candles in the country.
"You can buy a candle anywhere today, even at the drugstore," said Linda . "But I think there's a difference, just like there is between a homemade cookie and a store-bought one. Our candles are scented through and through, not just on top. We've become a destination for some people."
She begins the process of creating a new scent by procuring samples, then adding her personal touches to the mix. "It's like asking a chef for a recipe," she said. "You try a little of this, a little of that. There is plenty of trial and error involved."
"It's chemistry," said Joe . "Some of the stuff we try just doesn't burn well."
Their line of holiday aromas includes Hollyberry (cloves, fruity berries, and holly), Glad Tidings (mistletoe and sweet musk), and Christmas Tree (Colorado blue spruce), described as "the scent that dominated households before the age of artificial trees."
Speaking of scents in the home, the Res finally asked one island real estate agent why she was buying their dark chocolate candles by the armful. "She said that every time she placed one of these candles in a house when she was showing it, the house sold," Joe said.
The Res have gotten help from friends in high places. Joe , who ran a charter fishing business out of Oak Bluffs for years, tells of a longtime customer who pushed them to copyright the name of their fledgling venture. His name? Samuel W. Bodman, now the US secretary of energy.
"I've done the schlep jobs. I've stared at the walls and wondered how I was going to make it through eight hours," Linda said. "You just have to pull down inside yourself and find a way to do something you love to do."
Contact Ron Driscoll at email@example.com.