Got a light? Cigars and candles offered side by side in Balboa Island shop

Sheryl Scarso, owner of J & S Makescents on Balboa Island, holds a cigar sold at her Balboa Island store.
Sheryl Scarso, owner of J & S Makescents on Balboa Island, holds one of the cigars offered at her candle store on Balboa Island.
(Susan Hoffman)

When Sheryl Scarso told her friends that she wanted to open a candle store, they cautioned her that scented candles can be found everywhere. Her retort: “But they don’t have my story.”

Scarso explained that she first started making candles when her late mother had cancer. “She became incontinent, which nobody talks about, and candles are a way to help lower stress by keeping the house smelling good,” Scarso said.

“What I do [creating and selling candles] helps others going through what I did with my mom. We’re underground caretakers — [there are] a lot of us that take care of parents but don’t talk about it.”

Sheryl Scarso, right, owner of J & S Makescents, helps customers Olivia Robinson, center and Lauren Robinson.
Sheryl Scarso, right, owner of J & S Makescents on Balboa Island, helps customers Olivia Robinson, center, and Lauren Robinson.
(Susan Hoffman)

Scarso, who resides in Northridge, makes the drive five days a week to Balboa Island, where she opened J&S Makescents (“J” for Jeff and “S” for Sheryl) on Marine Avenue a little over a month ago.

The business began as a kind of family affair with her cousin, Jeff Smith (“J”) pitching in wherever needed along with her best friend and computer guy, Paul Gunderson.

The self-taught candle entrepreneur makes the hand-made soy wax candles in her home.

“I did the R&D in my kitchen and still make candles out of the kitchen,” said Scarso. “The evolution of it made a cigar candle called ‘Sweet Tobacco,’ which is one of the biggest hitters in the store.”

The new store on Balboa Island is Scarso’s second in the area after transitioning from pop-up sites in Los Angeles and Orange County. In 2020, during the middle of the pandemic when L.A. was shut down, she went to Laguna Beach and established a small store in the Cliff Restaurant Artist Village.

J & S Makescents on Balboa Island combines candles and cigars in the new store.
(Susan Hoffman)

“Men would approach me in my Laguna store and ask, ‘Where are the cigars?’” said Scarso. “Laguna Beach is a nonsmoking city now and the only cigar store there was grandfathered in, so no cigars are allowed in my store nor are any events pertaining to cigars.

“Newport, however is a different story. Balboa Island has not had a cigar store for many years. I don’t know why … I’m just blessed that I am providing it to the island,” she said. “It was the best move I could have ever made. The community is awesome and I love it there.”

On a recent Sunday morning customers traveling from Northampton, England inquired more about the story behind Scarso’s candle-making process. While Olivia Robinson waited for her purchase of pomegranate pear and French vanilla candles to be wrapped up, she asked about how involved Scarso’s mother had been in the process.

Scarso explained that as a way to keep her mom’s mind working following a stroke, she assigned her the tasks of attaching labels on the bottom of the candle glass and placing thank-you cards inside the boxes.

She considers her mom, who passed away in November 2018, her company’s mascot.

“Her tragedy became my personal journey, and now I get to help others [who are] care-taking,” said Scarso. “I honor her and my whole family loud and proud every day. My love and admiration for my mom comes out in making candles.”

Sheryl Scarso, center, owner of J & S Makescents on Balboa Island tells customers about her hand-made soy wax candles.
Sheryl Scarso, center, owner of J & S Makescents on Balboa Island, tells customers, Hilary Robinson, left, and Olivia Robinson about her handmade soy wax candles on a recent Sunday.
(Susan Hoffman)

To better introduce her customers to her store’s offerings, monthly events are held at the store. In mid-June she hosted a cigar sommelier to teach guests how to pair cigars with a favorite libation. The next week, an event featured a night of relaxation using Tibetan singing bowls and enjoying tarot card readings.

“The events will be something I do to inform cigar lovers how to get the best out of their cigars, while being able to enjoy a wonderful evening,” said Scarso. “The ladies get to enjoy their own experience with the calming experience I hope to provide. I enjoy stepping out of box. Usually, something cool evolves.”

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