Under new management, Detroit's Discount Candles is blazing a new chapter

Oct 23, 2019 at 1:00 am
Star Gazer dresses a pair of candles at Discount Candles.
Star Gazer dresses a pair of candles at Discount Candles. Jerilyn Jordan

Discount Candles manager and co-owner Star Gazer wants to debunk a common superstition: black cats are not a sign of bad luck to come.

"It's not true at all," she says. "You have bad cats and bad dogs. Black cats are really good luck. All cats are good." 

Gazer points to three cat-shaped candles ablaze in a tin tray propped above a bin filled with water, each candle anointed with oils, herbs, and Gazer's personal favorite, red pepper. "See?" she says. "But they should be facing the door. They have to absorb the energy and move it out of here."  

The "here" Gazer is referring to is Discount Candles' new location, where the shop relocated earlier this month. For more than 25 years the spiritual candle shop operated out of a mammoth corner building a block south on Gratiot Avenue at the helm of founder Donna Adams, who in the past year retired after she was threatened with a 500 percent rent increase by real estate investor Manoj Manwani. Gazer, once just a customer, has since risen to manage and co-own the legacy business.

"I was a customer for over 15 years," she says. "Donna would give us advice in good times and bad times. If we had no money, she still serviced us and gave us candles and we paid our bill. She believed in the word. I still keep that going with customers that have been loyal to us who might not have the money at that time, but they really need our services. So I really didn't change anything about the store."

Gazer became a vital part of the future of Discount Candles over dinner in spring 2018 after Adams found herself overwhelmed with the prospect of a move, and was uncertain about a potential space she had found closer to Seven Mile. The two toured the space, but Gazer didn't feel the location was the right place for the business. That's when she stepped in and started negotiating terms with Discount Candles' landlord before meeting with the Eastern Market Association and developer Sanford Nelson, whose FIRM Real Estate has bought 17 properties in the district.

Since 2018, Eastern Market has seen more than a half-dozen businesses shutter under Nelson's ownership — including the 30-year-old Eastern Market anchor Russell Street Deli, which closed its doors in September following a messy public dispute over a $50,000 repair.

"There is a lot of controversy about Sanford Nelson and his whole team," Gazer acknowledges. "But when we were introduced, that relationship really worked for us. [Nelson] actually helped us stay in the community." Discount Candles replaces the former SMPLFD clothing store, which recently relocated to a new larger space near the Heidelberg Project.

The events that transpired to make Discount Candles' move possible are perhaps a testament to Gazer's own beliefs, and the business's ethos. For Gazer, a proud Detroit west-sider, religion was a pillar of her family. She attended church weekly, went to Bible school, and sang in the church choir. But Gazer says Discount Candles is inclusive of beliefs beyond Christianity. "We have Buddhism, we have Ifá, which is an African religion, Indian religions," she says. "We're open to all of it."

Though Gazer alleges the candles themselves hold a distinct power, she says it's the combination of both the candle and the prayer that fulfills the wish or desire of the customer.

"You have to pray," she says. "We don't do your prayers for you when you need to do them. You have to — it's the only way it's going to work because you have to believe. It's all on you."

The candles are, of course, the heart of Discount Candles. Similar to Mexican veladoras, the candles come in a variety of colors often emblazoned with an intention, some a bit sillier than others. Take the popular red "Bitch Be Gone" candle, for example, which promises to drive away romantic competition. Several of the candles are aimed at those who find themselves entangled in legal woes, such as the "Other Lawyer Be Stupid." There are candles for shutting someone up, another for attracting a partner, and one for breaking up a couple. The "D.U.M.E." candle comes in black and features a skull and crossbones and has 10 blank spaces for the owner to write names of people they wish ill will toward. Other candles are a bit less specific and offer prosperity, good health, peace, wisdom, power, and success.

"The sense of levity to the customer is rooted in faith and hope," Gazer says of the colorful candle names.

Along with the move, Gazer is ushering in new programs, such as Wednesday meditations and Thursday prosperity classes, both led by her. They're also now making their own incense powders. Though Discount Candles has always offered books and other reading materials, they were kept behind the counter at the previous location. Gazer promises she's staying true to the store and Adams' vision but wants to make everything visible and accessible to her customers.

Another service she offers is dressing the candles. Depending on the candle and the needs of the customer, Gazer will first take a metal rod and score the top of the candle before poking holes around the wick. She then chooses from a wall of house-made oils (the prosperity oil has actual dollar bills floating around with various herbs) and pours them into the holes before sprinkling a variation of red pepper, cayenne, basil, thyme, and glitter.

When dressing, Gazer scans the wall of oils for the perfect mixture, sometimes retracting her choice. She pauses, sometimes combining multiple festoonments so the client gets everything they ask for (and then some).

"Oh, I get crazy," Gazer says. "We all have a little cray-cray in us, but we got to keep it balanced."

Discount Candles is located at 1484 Gratiot Ave., Detroit; 313-566-0092; facebook.com/discountcandlesdetroit. Discount Candles is open from 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Monday-Saturday.

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