Candle Shops of Downtown Baltimore -part 3-

Copyright 2005-2012 Edward Knapp. All rights reserved.

Grandma's Candle Shop 

(227 W. Saratoga St.)

    Grandma's Candle Shop (aka Grandma's) has been a fixture in the Lexington Market neighborhood since the 1970s. Originally located on Saratoga St., Grandma's was forced to relocate to Baltimore St. in the '90s by an urban renewal project that never quite happened. In 2000, the (still-ongoing) Westside development project almost forced Grandma's to move once again, but a last-minute revision of the development plan spared the south side of the West Baltimore St. block on which Grandma's was located. Grandma opened a second location on Saratoga St., Grandma's Candles Too, which lasted a few years before both stores were consolidated into the Saratoga space. As of 2007, Grandma's Candles Too was no more, and Grandma's Candle Shop is now located back on Saratoga Street.

    [On a more historical note, this area is one of the few Downtown sections that did not burn in the great fire of 1904, so many of the buildings in this area are significantly older than those in other parts of the Downtown/Inner Harbor area. And while the Westside development project has resurrected the Hippodrome Theatre to a semblance of its former glory, it has also been the leading edge of forcible gentrification of this area, claiming most of the buildings and small businesses on the blocks bounded by Paca, Baltimore, Howard, and Fayette streets -- including the warehouse I lived in when I first moved to this neighborhood. That block and the block that Grandma's occupied on Baltimore St. used to be home to a variety of businesses affiliated with the garment trade, none of which now survive in their original locations, although the Hippodrome Hatter did manage to move back into a space in the neightborhood around the corner from its former location.]

    Grandma's Baltimore St. location has did quite well; in 2003, Grandma opened up a second store, Grandma's Candles Too (referred to here as Grandma's Too), on West Saratoga St, not far from her original location (and only 5 blocks from her Baltimore Street store). Both stores had a more Wicca/New Age vibe than do either Jericho or Grandpa's Lucky Star, though there were also distict diffferences in product mix and atmosphere between Grandma's and Grandma's Too.

    Grandma's Too had aspects of a New Age gift shop, while Grandma's has a more occult (for lack of a better term) feel. The difference in focus and presentation was deliberate, and Grandma's Too did fill a niche that was not specifically addressed by other stores in the area. Grandma herself did readings using playing cards at both locations, in their respective back rooms.

    Grandma's Baltimore Street shop was a narrow, plain, one-story glass-fronted storefront wedged between an 1880's-era stone-built bank-turned-nightclub and a check-cashing outlet. Inside, Grandma's was dim and a bit threadbare in places, but densely stocked: Glass cases of mineral specimens, figurines, and aromatherapy diffusers vie with racks and shelves of candles of all sizes and descriptions for one's attention as one walks in the door. Sales counters occupied the back and one of the side walls. Figural candles, bottles of cologne, rows of vials of condition and fragrance/essential oils, and and a surprisingly extensive selection of dried herbs filled the shelves that lined the walls behind the sales counters, while the glass cases supporting the counters housed a sizable array of bric a brac, mineral specimens, and amulet curios. Grandma's current Saratoga street store is comparatively polished glass and tourquoise laminate storefront with large front display windows, which dates from at least the 1940s. While the current Grandma's on Saratoga Street retains much of the Baltimore shop's stock, shelving, and counterspace, the Saratoga street space has almost double the floor space, resulting in a shop that feels less crowded and more expansive than the Baltimore St. location did.

    In addition to a line of self-published dreambooks and lottery books, Grandma's also stocks an extensive selection of printed material covering subjects ranging from positive-thought self-help to serious academic texts on Ifa diviniation -- indeed, Grandma's is one of only two stores that I know of in Baltimore City (the other would be Everyone's Place on North Avenue) to stock small press academic texts on African and Diasporic religions and spiritual practice.

    In contrast, Grandma's Too, originally housed in the Saratoga street location was bright and airy, due to the ongoing process of stocking the store and the relatively large floor area. The range of candles and accessories overlapped Grandma's to some extent, but Grandma's Too carried a greater percentage of gift-items, statuary, and bric a brac than any of the other local candle shops, and a smaller selection of dried herbs than either Jericho or Grandma's. Aromatherapy candles and Indio products are well-represented, and the book selection, while still significant, leaned more towards self-help and introductory tarot and spell-casting than ceremonial magic or academic texts.

    Judged by the standard of adherence to traditional Southern Hoodoo formulas and methods, the spiritual / condition products at Grandma's and Grandma's Too were and are a hit or miss proposition -- for oils, many are Indio standards, some are targeted toward aromatherapy, some are national brand standards, and still others are almost anonymous in their packaging. Sachet powders and bath crystals were and are not prominant, in marked contrast with Jericho. Herbs are likewise variable -- all are dried, most are cut-and-sifted, and their identities are only as reliable as the suppliers' descriptions. For commonly available herbs, Grandma's is, for the most part, adequate.

    Grandma's serves a diverse clientele, representing a cross section of the local and regional population; customers have ranged from dancers from the previously-nearby (now-shuttered and in the process of being redeveloped) gentleman's club looking for Ven a Mi ("Come to Me") candles, to Heathen (as in Northern tradition) folks from rural Western Maryland/West Virginia who might make the trek into Baltimore once or twice a year to stock up on supplies. That said, Grandma's and Grandma's Too both serve a predominantly African-American clientele.

    The clientele vary widely in terms of actuals practices and expertise. Some are working by traditional methods or at least according to their own well-defined system; others appear to be looking for an outside edge or an alternative way to address their problems, perhaps in the form of an Indio money-drawing aerosol spray.

    Grandma herself readily adjusts her advice and recommendations to whatever spiritual system her clients follow -- no small feat given that the paths of her clientele range from Hoodoo to New Age / Wicca to the Daily Numbers. The sales people at both locations were and are multi-ethnic and multi-cultural, and generally knowledgable in providing reccommendations to customers.

End Part 3

(back to index) (back to Part 2)