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What scent evokes the memory of a hug from a beloved grandmother? A freshly mowed lawn? A high school dance? Christmas?
The strongest memory trigger we have is our sense of smell. No one knows this better than Christina Kelley, whose love of fragrance began in childhood. One of her favorite scents is Neroli, or orange blossom. Her family took vacations in Florida when she was a child, and she loved to buy tiny oranges, filled with the scent, from roadside five-and-dimes. For her, Neroli is the scent of happiness and family.
Kelley now is a co-owner of Make Scents, a fragrance store for bath, body and home that carries more than 200 scents, from designer to therapeutic. Fragrance is subjective, and the limitless possibilities for combinations means everyone can find something to suit his or her tastes by sampling, mixing and matching from the many alphabetized fragrance oils lining the wall behind the store’s register.
Kelley began working in the fragrance industry when she lived in England. For a year she worked at The Body Shop, a forerunner in the industry of natural bath and body care, and she loved the job. Back in Columbia in 1990, she wandered into Makes Scents, then located on North 9th Street, and found a local counterpart to fulfill her love of scents.
For the next 15 years, Kelley worked for Makes Scents, which ran a store at the Columbia Mall along with the store on North 9th that eventually closed. In June 2006, she and her husband, Michael Marcum, purchased the company.
In September, the business returned to The District, this time at 19 S. 9th St. between Sparky’s and Missouri Shirt Co.
“The move was an easy decision,” says Kelley. “We knew this was where we wanted to be because we love downtown, the heart of Columbia. It gave us a chance to reconnect with old customers who preferred not to shop at the mall. Many people like to support local businesses, and there is this impression that if you are in the mall you are not local.” Parking can be tricky on 9th Street, but Kelley says the foot traffic is big benefit.
Even with their seven part-time employees, operating two locations required more time and energy than Kelley and Marcum wanted to invest, so in January 2007 the couple closed the mall location. The downtown location provides the kind of pleasant, personal shopping experience many customers crave, Kelley says.
Two such customers are Lisa and Kurt Jansen, who recently moved to Columbia from Seattle. They discovered Makes Scents during a recent Art Walk. Their son, Jacob, fell in love with the store—especially the bath beads, which come in shapes ranging from whales to cows.
“We are not a store of needs; we are a store of wants. There is nothing in the store that anyone needs, so I want it to be a fun, unique experience,” says Kelley. “And no one should feel excluded. We have products from 35 cents to $350. I want everyone to be able to take a piece of Makes Scents away if they want.”
The custom fragrance oils are added to everything from bath salts and lotions to shampoos and massage oils. Kelley measures the oils into a jar of bath salts with a pipette, which looks like an extra-small turkey baster. After each of the oils is added to create a custom fragrance, she shakes the jar like a maraca to blend the scent. It is a little like bartending.
Makes Scents could sell many gift items, but fragrance is the core of the business and the reason many loyal customers have stayed with the shop over the years. Kelley has helped many find their ideal scents or recreate scents they loved that have gone out of production. Every day is a creative one.
Over the years, customers have surprised Kelley with odd combinations that have resulted in great fragrances. Thanks to her blind clientele, she also has discovered that some scents evoke color; they smell blue or green or pink—especially when you use your nose to see the world. “Smell is a muscle like any other. I just exercise mine every day,” Kelley says.
Many people believe the world of fragrance belongs to women, but three out of every 10 Makes Scents customers are men, who are less likely to go to a department store perfume counter. Kelley says she believes they find her store more accessible. They tend to gravitate toward chocolate, vanilla or clean citrus scents.
Kelley notes patchouli is still the scent that draws the strongest reaction. “People either love it or hate it,” she says. Perfume often follows clothing trends, and in the world of fragrance, what is old is new again. If the smell of roses reminds you of your Grandma, this isn’t the case with the younger crowd of today who find the scent fresh and clean.
Fragrance is all about finding your fit. For 34 years, the custom fragrance shop has been an ideal fit for the people of Columbia.