Knoxville Soap Candle and Gifts to Close

Jodi Bowlin outside Knoxville Soap Candle and Gifts (Photo courtesy of Jodi Bowlin)
Jodi Bowlin outside Knoxville Soap Candle and Gifts (Photo courtesy of Jodi Bowlin)

Local favorite, Knoxville Soap Candle and Gifts will officially close its doors on April 20. The business started in Fountain City in 1999 under a slightly different name (Knoxville Soap Factory) nearly twenty-five years ago. Owner Jodi Bowlin purchased the business in 2008 after working as manager there for two years. The name shifted and she moved it to Bearden in 2013, then to downtown in 2018. She hoped to find more foot traffic at 714 South Gay and she now says that is exactly what she found. The store thrived.

A series of recent personal events in Jodi’s life led her to conclude that now is the time for her to move into another phase of her life. Her mother’s long illness and then death requires her to travel to Las Vegas for an extended time to settle the estate. She then plans to take some time off and “look at the water” before deciding where she’ll ultimately land and what she might do next. Returning to her first home in northern California is a possibility, as is a return to Knoxville.

I spoke to Jodi about the journey she has taken with the business and her time downtown. She originally intended to keep the lease until this fall, but the situation changed, and the opportunity presented itself to move more quickly. The timing felt right. She has other rivers to cross just now.

Jodi Bowlin, Knoxville Soap Candle and Gifts, 5201 Kingston Pike, Knoxville, August 2018

Knowing this day was coming, she entertained discussions about selling the business, but no potential buyers succeeded in putting the deal together. As a result, she began returning merchandise to some of the smaller vendors who had sold through her on commission. She’s begun selling furniture. She’s kept the merchandise from the primary vendors, all of whom are local. She’s proud of the fact that her shop sold locally made goods long before there was a maker movement in Knoxville. She did it to better serve her community, she says, and about 80% of the goods in her store are made in the Knoxville area.

It’s been good for me and everyone . . . Selling and profiting was never my goal in this business. It was to make enough to pay the rent, pay me a little, pay an employee so I could have some time off . . . It’s the Little Store That Could. We’ve had a great following because of the exclusivity of the vendors.

She said tourists and local people who wander downtown have given the business its base. She said the walkability has made “downtown the best location and my favorite.” She said many people who come to town, like casts for Broadway shows at the Tennessee Theatre have shopped there. “When we had the grand piano, we had random musicians play and that was incredible.” She cited the help and support she’s had from people like Robin Thomas (Downtown Knoxville Alliance) and Rick Emmett (Downtown Manager for many years). I’d just like to say ‘Thank you’ to everybody . . . I’m so grateful for all the support.”

She’s had relationships with some of the vendors since the beginning and others for years. She’s grateful for the role she’s played in helping them grow their businesses. And she wants to invite everyone to come see their remaining inventory while she’s open. Those items remained priced normally because they belong to the vendors. She does, however, have a “seventy percent off room” of all of her home decor, including seasonal items.

Of the maker orientation of the shop she said, “I found my way to become a maker store and become 80% local and help all these families.” She said for many of them it provided life-changing income or a way to buy food. “This is the work that I’ve done . . . When you do the type of community work I’ve done, you can never put a price tag on it and for that I am so rich. I am proud of my accomplishment.”

The Sign Removed from the Storefront, 2024 (Photo courtesy of Jodi Bowln)

As she leaves her home city of the last thirty years and her business of eighteen years, she is happy to have made the journey thus far and glad that it ended in downtown Knoxville. “I’d recommend anyone to bring their business downtown. It’s just absolutely wonderful, especially here in the district to have the First Friday events. It’s really just great.”

The building which contains Knoxville Soap and Candle was purchased last year for $1.8 million by an out-of-town investor and the space has a new lease beginning May 1. I hope to have more in the coming days regarding the new business we might expect. In the meantime, drop in and say goodbye to Jodi and wish her well. Both she and her business have been a gift to downtown for the last six years.