Candle Shop owner reminisces about retail career in a legendary spot

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The Candlestick has been at the Plaza in historic Sonoma for more than 20 years.



On the corner of West Spain Street at the heart of the historic plaza, is what appears to be a whimsical shop called, The Candlestick. As this reporter discovered, (while on assignment for The Sonoma Valley Sun) the alluring, yet subtle fragrance that reached out in the summer-autumn air pulled this reporter right in is locally made.
The array of unique and artistically crafted gifts dazzled the eyes, especially the candles. But again the fragrance beckoned. It harkened to an earlier time, not too long ago in the 1960’s and’70s, when Sonoma and the Bay Area was an “Oz-of-an-Emerald-City of sorts, for artists, craft-makers and visionaries of all kinds.
When I mentioned this to Dan Gallison the owner-proprietor he exclaimed, “This candle shop was and “is California’s oldest and largest specialty candle store and is nationally recognized as the premier candle retailer on the West Coast.”
Very little in The Candlestick is mass-produced in bulk as he is confident what you find here is original.
Gallison made note that he moved the shop to Sonoma over 22 years ago after being in Sausalito for decades.  Years ago, he reminisced, “I operated and managed stores on Grant Ave. & Union St. in San Francisco, as well as Santa Barbara and Sausalito.”
Taking the time to chat, remembering those days of more than 45 years ago in the City, he said. “I was young then. I did not know anything about window displays or presentation.”
 Gallison was working for Glen Johnston, the original owner/founder of the candle shop, which was then on Grant Ave, not far from Gumps. “Luckily a designer-buyer for Gumps, liked my merchandise and would give me advice on how to arrange items in the window and in the shop.” Gallison quickly adapted and gained a knack and some acumen.
The energy of the City as he noted, at that time was exciting, especially for local merchants. With his outgoing personality and the mellow social atmosphere of those days, Gallison took on more responsibility. The Candlestick soon found a spot at The Village Fair at 777 Bridgeway in Sausalito in the 1970’s.
The Hippie movement and other social changes brought a down-to-earth approach to not only lifestyles but to the arts and crafts of the time. Candle making, macramé, beadwork were just some of the many crafts and gift items that were plentiful and unique of that era.
“I was at Village Fair, said Gallison when our local film critic Jan Wahl had a shop there and artists used to sketch passersby on the street.”
He also noted that the old garage-turned shopping arcade that was Village Fair was similar in ways to what Vintage 1870 was and is in Yountville in the Napa Valley. 
Years before Sausalito became the upscale tourist spot it is today; and certainly before Sonoma-Napa became a wine destination to rival that of France, the Bay Area had its own home-grown art and crafts scene.
“Here in Sausalito is were lots of artists, musicians, and bohemians came to the houseboat community after WWII,” said Sharon Seymore of the Sausalito Historical Society. 
As the Collections & exhibit’s manager of the historical society, Seymore noted the book the historical society published. It is called, ‘Sausalito – Images of America’ “it has a chapter on houseboats in Sausalito, Seymore said with a reference to hippies.”
Mentioning the stark contrast to the touristy and chic Sausalito of today, Seymore noted.  “In that book it refers to the houseboat wars of the 1970’s when the Sheriff’s Dept. sent in enforcers to tow nonconforming structures away.”
“This then led to the infamous houseboat wars of the mid-70’s, she added, with boat to boat jousting matches between the hippies trying to keep their houseboats, and the sheriff’s deputies attempting to remove them from the Bay.”
Seymore did confirm some of Gallison’s recollections. “Jan Wahl has lived in Sausalito for a number of years and yes, she used to have a movie memorabilia shop in The Village Fair,” said Seymore.
When speaking with Gallison about such recollections, he remembers most of it with great fondness and appreciation.  When he acquired the shop from founder Johnston in 1990, Gallison eventually closed the location in Sausalito. “I am glad I moved to Sonoma when I did, he said. Sausalito and definitely the City is not what it was when I was there.”
Mindful of trends, Gallison continues to strive to find locally made and unique items as much as possible. “In today’s global market and with high costs, it is not easy,” he said.
He pointed to some of the items made in Sonoma County; Glen Ellen’s Foxhaus Glen was among them. “It’s a fun little shop that’s perfect in its uniqueness,” said Foxhaus Glen founder, Mike Williamson.
“The Candlestick is an iconic part of the plaza at Sonoma, Williamson said. And Dan does such a great job keeping the candle selection unique and differentiated from many other shops.”
Explaining from his perspective, Williamson continued. “We introduced our line about two years ago and when we brought the candles in for the first time to show Dan and provide a sample of what we were creating, he emphatically said ‘you’ve made my day!’’’
Inspired by the wines of the region, Williamson noted, “our candles are made with “pure soy wax, hand poured right here in Sonoma, California. Founded with the idea that pure luxury candles should be clean burning, long lasting, and enrich a room with amazing oils,” he said.
The Candlestick owner, Dan Gallison in the shop on a summer day. Assistant manager Anne helps customers with their purchases, providing gift wrap and special orders.
So it is no wonder that with such well-made, original candles the shop has the alluring fragrance it does which welcomes customers right from the street. Open Daily 10 to 6 PM, The Candlestick is located at 38 West Spain Street. For more info visit The Candlestick web site or call 707-933-0800