Handmade Soaps to Clean up Main Street

A transplanted couple from Arizona wants to cleanup a block of East Main Street – by making and selling soap in a formerly dilapidated store.

Michael and Sharon Walsh started making soap 18 years ago after receiving a how-to book as a gag gift.

“The book was horrible. I was forced to find a way to do it better,” said Michael.

Five weeks ago they opened a shop across from the Richmond Public Library on Main Street downtown. (Sharon was not present when I popped in last week). The blog Monroe Ward first broke the news.

They renovated the building but would not disclose how much they invested in the structure or the business. The soap sells for $4.50 a bar and is made in the back of the shop. Flavors include Hemp, Mint, and one called Sore Muscles.

Walsh didn’t share how much soap he expects to sell. He said he’s limited somewhat in establishing commercial customers, since bed & breakfasts are unlikely to want to pay $1 per bar, which is what the small ones might cost. There might be more hope from the hotels, he said. He’s also hoping to sell the bars for inclusion in corporate gift baskets.

The soaps are for sale in area stores, including These Four Walls in Shockoe Bottom.

Janan Hilali, an assistant manager and interior designer at These Four Walls, said the store sells five to 10 bars a week. “They sell well to out-of-town customers. He also does a Virginia soap for us.”

Walsh wasn’t always elbow-deep in vats of olive oil making soap. He spent time in the military and in the corporate world.

“I had a creative side but it had to stay off stage,” said Walsh, a Simon and Garfunkel CD playing in the background.

Walsh said he didn’t make a business plan or think too hard about the business side of things. For years the Walshes sold soaps at music festivals. “People kept saying the same thing. ‘Where’s your shop?’”

The couple moved to Richmond three years ago. They chose to set up shop downtown because they believe the city is undergoing a rejuvenation, they said. “Four dollar gas makes you not want to live in the suburbs,” Walsh said.

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