Smelling Asheville: Local candlemaker creates walking tour based on historic scents

FRESH LAUNDRY: The Flatiron building's iron statue and Michael Dale's "fresh laundry" scent both commemorate a historic downtown laundromat at Wall Street. The Asheville Aroma Tour creator hopes candle customers will recall their trip to the historic landmark more vividly upon smelling the corresponding fragrance while at home.
FRESH LAUNDRY: The Flatiron building's iron statue and Michael Dale's "fresh laundry" scent both commemorate a historic downtown laundromat at Wall Street. The Asheville Aroma Tour creator hopes candle customers will recall their trip to the historic landmark more vividly upon smelling the corresponding fragrance while at home. Photo by Kat McReynolds

“As far as I know, there’s never been anything like this,” says Asheville Aroma Tours creator Micheal Dale. Armed with an in-depth knowledge of Asheville’s walkable historic sites and a passion for aromatics, the local candlemaker has combined seemingly disparate modes of taking in local history — sights and smells — in his most recent venture.

Dale’s tour, an elaborate twist on the city of Asheville’s Urban Trail, assigns a specific smell to each of 30 landmarks downtown. He hopes employing the nose (using 30 cards painted with essential oils and other fragrances) will add to user engagement and potentially activate multiple areas of the brain during the roughly two hour tour.

“Our sense of smell is really connected to our memory,” Dale says, “and it’s also tied to emotion, so I think it will add a whole other dimension.”

A WHIF OF INSPIRATION

After years of employment at a furniture factory and later as a house painter, Dale suffered a debilitating back injury. Not one for idling, he sought a creative, manual hobby, and it didn’t take long for the self-described “natural born world-shaker” to see his wife’s and daughter’s scented candle craze as a potential pastime.

FRESH LAUNDRY: The Flatiron building's iron statue and Dale's "fresh laundry" scent both commemorate a historic downtown laundromat at Wall Street. Dale hopes candle customers will recall their trip to the historic landmark more vividly upon smelling the corresponding fragrance while at home. Photo by Kat McReynolds
FRESH LAUNDRY: The Flatiron building’s iron statue and Dale’s “fresh laundry” scent both commemorate a historic downtown laundromat at Wall Street. Dale hopes candle customers will recall their trip to the historic landmark more vividly upon smelling the corresponding fragrance while at home. Photo by Kat McReynolds

In the nearly three years since, he’s honed his skills as a candlemaker and distributed to various downtown retail locations like the Kress Emporium and Asheville Visitor Center in addition to procuring online business. Only in late 2014 did Dale make a mental connection between his scented venture and two other passions — history and walking.

“I’ve probably walked [the Urban Trail] 50 or 60 times by myself and a few times with other people,” says the Asheville-area native, calling the trail the nation’s best self-guided walking tour, “but I always wanted to know more.” The history enthusiast saw descriptions of the trail’s 30 locations as teasers, prompting him to seek further information about each sight, including historic and current photographs.

“When I learned that George Pack made his fortune in the pine forest … I thought, ‘I’ve got a pine forest scent!”

And so, the Asheville Aroma Tour was conceived.

Since November 2014, Dale has been busy organizing his wealth of background information pertaining to each UT landmark. His greatest challenge, however, was assigning scents to 29 additional locations after the initial revelation.

Some are obvious. The Flat Iron sculpture, for example, commemorates a the history and shape of the tall building behind it but also references turn-of-the-century irons — hence a “fresh laundry” scent. Dale had to get creative with others, though. Pronounced “Dr. Humor” by some locals, the Drhumor building candle smells like Dr. Pepper. That one, Dale admits, was a bit of a stretch on his part.

By March, Dale aims to have his full line of soybean wax candles in retail stores downtown alongside professionally bound prints of his guidebook. That way, users inspired by a particular scented card can purchase the full-sized candle in stores or online.

“This is a funny thing,” says Dale. “so I’m wondering how the combination is going to work out. … It’s for tourists mostly, but I would love to see locals start to get into this [and] maybe just go out and explore the city where they live.”

KICKSTARTING THE AROMA TOUR

“Now everyone can get a ‘scents’ of Asheville’s history in a fun, memorable and exciting way!” reads Dale’s Kickstarter campaign page. The entrepreneur aims to raise $8,000 by Sunday, Feb. 1, to have his guidebook professionally printed and bound.

The book, including a set of 30 scented cards, will eventually sell for about $20 per copy at participating retailers.

“Spread the word and let’s make the Asheville Aroma Tour a reality!” he writes.

For more information, visit ashevillearoma.com.

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About Kat McReynolds
Kat studied entrepreneurship and music business at the University of Miami and earned her MBA at Appalachian State University. Follow me @katmAVL

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