Thompson founded and owns, with her husband, John Thompson ’94, Thompson’s Candle Company, located at 4th and Allegheny Streets in Huntingdon, just across the 4th Street Bridge on the banks of the river for which her alma mater is named. Very often, visitors and residents alike drive across the bridge, or stroll nearby Riverside Park, and know a new batch is underway, given the super-scented breeze.
Super-scented is a key phrase describing Angie’s products, the recipe for which she cooked up in the basement of a house on Pennsylvania Avenue almost 20 years ago, while raising two young children. That recipe led to a company that today employs 24 people, makes between 9,000 and 15,000 candles per week, stocks showrooms in Atlanta, Las Vegas, Columbus, and Huntingdon, and sells its wares in Hallmark stores, Bass Pro Shops, Tractor Supply Company, and other gift shops, chains, and grocery stores throughout the U.S. and Canada.
Key to this growth is the woman whose curiosity and organization are as potent as the candle scents themselves.
“Growing up, I would collect frogs with my sister and catalog what we found,” she says, recalling her youth in Adams County, Pennsylvania.
Given her early enthusiasm, she wanted to study environmental science, with a particular interest in geology. The quintessential winding drive to campus hooked her. “Driving through the mountains and seeing the stratified layers was exciting. I felt it was the right journey, that I was going to a wonderful place.” She looked at no other colleges.
Angie met John who studied philosophy and religious studies, in Celia Cook-Huffman’s Conflict Resolution class. By her junior year, the couple were engaged.
Once settled in Huntingdon, where John grew up, the Thompsons soon were raising a daughter and younger son. John worked counseling delinquent children in a state facility. Angie pursued creative projects: embroidery, sewing, painting, and other arts. One day in Sam’s Club, she spotted a candle-making kit. The family was on a tight budget—kids, a new mortgage, and one income. So, John initially balked, finding the kit a little pricey. Angie persisted.
Absorbed with curiosity, she experimented to find a recipe that would burn well and evenly and emit significant scent. After a few weeks, she found an unbeatable blend and, with a solid home supply of candles, she felt the urge to share.
Angie joined a Huntingdon craft co-op and put work out for sale. Very quickly she sold out of candles. Requests came in for more and she labored to meet demand. “I learned quickly that candles are good for growing a business because they’re a consumable,” she says.
And consumed they were. Angie soon employed a neighbor to help. After working craft shows and gaining invaluable feedback and insight, Angie saw potential. She and another artist opened the Thistle Patch Peddler in nearby Alexandria, to expand their space and offerings. By then, Angie was making several dozen candles per week, and some weeks more than 100. She needed more space than a basement on Pennsylvania Avenue.
She and John found a farmette to suit the bill. With a barn updated for storage and a workshop boasting 220-volt power and a kerosene furnace for warmth, Angie knew she hit paydirt. But, it sat on the other side of a creek, across a rickety wooden bridge. Angie had to coax some truck drivers over it to deliver wax.
By the mid-2000s, the weight of wax deliveries had become too much. Delivery drivers refused to cross the bridge, and Angie conceded. The Thompsons moved the operation to its present location and filled what seemed an impossibly cavernous space.
With a distribution center added now in Rockhill, Pa., the expensive candle kit is a wise investment in retrospect. While much has changed from the basement days, each candle is still made by hand. “We have no automation,” Angie says, “We will not give up the quality.”
With the business growing, Angie took her hands-on ethic to other pursuits. In 2014, she and John purchased Huntingdon’s Gage Mansion, a stunning Queen Anne Victorian home built in 1896 for the one-time superintendent of the Huntingdon and Broad Top Railroad.
“John and I would leave work and walk up to Mimi’s restaurant for a martini and see the weeds around the Gage Mansion,” Angie says. “We loved the grandeur of the place and didn’t want it to sit empty. So we wrote a business plan for what we could do and then bought it.”
They found it in remarkably good condition, albeit dusty. Now, the original woodwork polished and its stained glass windows lustrous, the Gage Mansion Bed and Breakfast offers accommodations for visitors to the region.
That success inspired Angie to spearhead Huntingdon’s Downtown Opportunity Committee, which offered a business pitch competition for local entrepreneurs, as well as a day of seminars on the topic. In addition to assisting local businesses, she and John also work in support of Huntingdon Landmarks, a non-profit dedicated to the preservation of historic buildings and the economic vitality of Huntingdon and on whose board Angie sits. In that organization’s events, the Thompsons are heavily involved, planning and executing Wine Down Weekend—a wine-tasting event on Labor Day weekend in downtown Huntingdon. They also participate in the monthly Huntingdon Art Walks.
John started working for the candle company full time and now he and Angie work at standing desks in the back office of the candle factory tending to the executive needs of a growing company. They can still walk up to Mimi’s for a martini. On the way, they pass the Gage Mansion, restored. And if the breeze is right, it may wick the scent of candles to where they sit.