ORLEANS — In a world full of gadgets, it's refreshing to visit the candle maker on Main Street.
“It's very traditional, non-high tech,” Agostino Di Bari said of his work. “It's rewarding.”
The sales area at the front of Honey Candle Co. at 37 Main St. is replete with various sizes, shapes and colors of beeswax candles and tapers. Behind that is a compact work space that includes the tools of his trade as well as a guitar (“I'm not a very sophisticated player”) and a piano (“for my daughter and wife”).
“Candles are not just for light,” Di Bari said as he wound a long wick around a frame. “They're about spirituality: birth, death, a wish, sadness, meditation.”
His occupation, he says, goes back thousands of years. “The Egyptians harvested beeswax. Churches and nobles were big users; the rest used tallow.”
Beeswax, said Di Bari, “is none other than nectar collected by bees, then transformed into wax. It is best for candles. It doesn't need any additives,” such as animal byproducts. He gets some of his locally but most often from a Florida couple with a couple hundred beehives.
Di Bari called beeswax “an amazing product. It's not sterile; it's kind of alive. It's like the difference between a commercial loaf of bread and the bread you make.”
His hands-on occupation suits the candle maker, who was a commercial fisherman in his native Italy. “By 17, I had my own boat,” he said. “I can't be too far from the water. Otherwise, I get sick.”
Indeed, “we met by the water” is how Di Bari describes his first encounter with his wife-to-be, who was in the Navy and stationed at a U.S. base 10 miles from where he fished.
In 1990, he moved to America permanently. Living first in Milford, Di Bari worked in Bellingham and Uxbridge making plastic molds. His candle-making was confined to after-hours in his basement.
“I was self-taught,” he said. “I made lots of mistakes.” But the candles were salable, and he developed a wholesale business.
Milford is not known for its ocean views, however. When he could, Di Bari used to go down to Westport, where he kept a small sailboat. “It was my escape,” he said.
When friends said he should open a shop and suggested it be on Cape Cod, the candle maker started looking here. “I missed the ocean,” he said. “Where I came from in Italy, I lived always on the ocean.”
Di Bari settled in on Main Street in 1998, offering wholesale and retail sales. Working in Orleans and living in Eastham, with their bay and ocean views, makes him feel sometimes “like I'm on a ship.”
It's possible, he said, to make a living on Cape Cod. “It's a struggle – a nice struggle.” And as your own boss, “you never get fired.”
That point of ownership is important to Di Bari. “In the past, everyone was involved in their own business,” he said. “Some worked the land, some worked horses, made candles, fished. Everybody was responsible for their own living – some worked for a third party.”
Today, he said, “people are disconnected. They're looking for something they can do with their hands. They've got to find purpose. This kind of business does give purpose.”
Di Bari keeps work and recreation in balance. He still fishes, “off the flats, for striped bass, blues.” Once, what he thought was a hard-fighting striper on his line turned out to be a five-foot brown shark.
The candle maker's flame is still burning brightly. “This is a lifetime commitment,” he said. “I'm never gonna retire. I'm not the kind of person to sit down and watch Fox News from dusk to dawn.”