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Bee Man Candles

For chandler and shop owner Brian Howell, a childhood passion set the groundwork for a buzzing small business.

Some kids nag their parents for a bike, an iPhone, or sugary cereal. When Brian Howell was 11, he started campaigning for a beehive. "My passion for candle-making started with beekeeping," he says. He became smitten with the idea at the Empire State Honey Producers Association's booth at the 1991 New York State Fair. The following year, a neighbor gave him three hives in exchange for his help selling honey and candles at crafts shows. Those hives were the start of the Bee Man Candle Company, says Howell, now 33.

Granted, there was a learning curve, like the night when Howell's mom went to church and told him the oven was off-limits for making candles, "so I used the microwave instead," he says, "and blew it up."

These days, Howell's parents often work by his side (along with three part-time and two full-time employees) in his workshop in Canastota, a small town near Syracuse, New York.

During his two decades in business -- he now sells about 100,000 candles a year -- Howell has refined his process. Today he uses pesticide-free beeswax from rural African beekeepers, pours it into custom molds, flash-cools it, and hand-finishes his naturally smokeless, dripless, long-burning candles.

Howell's newest chapter: a learning center, which opened in October, to educate his community about how important honeybees are to the ecosystem. He's hoping that some of his students will catch the same bug he once did.