Astor Candles – lighting the way through disaster

    Astor has been around for 40 years – join us as we take a look back through the years & at how they’re doing during Covid-19.

    It is possible that in this fast-paced world of ours, the businesses that have been around for decades … businesses that provide not only a service, but a product that can only be made or fabricated by expert hands have gone out of favor. Many would of course think so, but it is not the case.

    It is in such businesses that have stood the test of time, that an individual that is intent on giving a finished product of supreme beauty and understanding all at once that that finished product means more to the recipient than anything else, that the old businesses thrive most.

    Astor Candles and the people behind the name definitely understand that, and even through the mess that Covid-19 brought along with it was extremely threatening, they delivered that product still, and still do as they have for all these years since their inception.

    Because even in times of peril, there are certain needs that people can’t do without: They need to eat, they need to mourn when it’s called for (and perhaps even more in times like these), they need to look upon something as simple, but as beautiful as a wick burning through wax that is produced at the hands of an expert craftsman, and for whatever reason.

    A brief history & family background

    Yannis, outside of Astor Candles. Via Domenic Marinelli

    Astor Candles has been the quintessential place to purchase candles in Montréal since 1980. They have specialized in the manufacturing of personalized candles and candles of a religious persuasion since the business’s inception and Yannis Hatzichristidis’ own arrival to the city after emigrating here from Greece.

    Their range of clients can go from the restaurant industry to any other branch of hospitality like reception halls, cafes, bistros, etc. They also cater to the community of churches across the city and Laval to the north. But of course their reach goes way beyond those regions as well. We’ll get into this a little later in the article, but their work has been featured in Hollywood films as well; the intricacy of said work available to be seen in some of Tinsel Town’s most dominant releases. In fact, they had recently worked on providing the candles for one specific film we cannot mention whose release was slated for 2020 but delayed because of Covid-19. I was privy to some of the work they did do for that film, and shown some of the candles when I visited the Park Extension location last week, and dare I say it, the items created were as beautiful as all the other work I saw strewn about the store, warehouse and workshop.

    Their company website claims: “Whatever color, texture, height, width and decor specifications are required for your candles, we will meet them. Personalized candles are our business.”

    We have absolutely no doubt of this, as the intricacy of the works displayed in the store were extremely well-executed and showed a side of candle-making you can’t really see in candles purchased at your local dollar store, I’m afraid.  

    It’s a family run business. There are no outsiders involved, really. The primary members of the operation consist of Yannis himself and Elizabeth, one of his daughters, but other family members are also involved.

    To go a little further in history to Yannis’ father: he operated a business in Greece that had a hand in many products, so Yannis had a very good teacher, it can be said. Yannis claims that he learned the candle making trade back there in Piraeus specifically, and he brought his knowledge here … arriving in Montréal when he was 27 years old.

    Of the family accolades he is especially proud of his brother, Professor Nikos Hatzichristidis, who has done extensive work in the chemical sciences, specifically, polymers and “novel model homopolymers, copolymers with well-defined complex macromolecular architectures” as per the KAUST website (King Abdullah University of Science & Technology).

    Family photo of Yannis’s father.

    Affects of Covid-19

    The wedding industry—if it can in fact be called an industry—in and of itself was obviously hit quite hard during Covid-19, and thus they were hit at Astor.

    Elizabeth, Yannis’ daughter, had this to say about the virus and its effects on their business: “We are not functioning obviously as we used to be functioning, which is a given. But, you know … we just keep going; our business is tied to industries that were more heavily hit. Restaurants, reception halls, churches … which all involve gatherings of people—and they can’t gather!”

    When asked what kind of business was left after taking away all those aforementioned potential clientele, she said: “Right now, it’s all about our store front. People were a little timid at first ….” She trailed off then, but we saw her meaning when we witnessed many clients coming in to purchase items in store and inquire about possible orders in the near future.

    So essentially, they’re taking it day by day, and as Yannis said himself: “It’s not too bad.”

    Elizabeth decided to leave behind her previous career to have more of a role in the family business. She holds a criminology degree and a law degree but decided that the family business was “where it was at.”

    The film business in detail

    Photo from the film “The Covenant” (2006)

    As stated, the company has provided candles in the form of set décor for many Hollywood films. We were shown photographs of the work they did specifically for the production of The Covenant, directed by Renny Harlin (Cliffhanger, Deep Blue Sea, Die Hard 2, 12 Rounds, and most recently, The Misfits). The film starred Taylor Kitsch (John Carter, Lone Survivor), as well as other up and comers of the era (2006).

    The work done for this film leans towards the gothic genre, as the film specifically called for this sort of work, as can be seen in the images shown.

    The making of candles in general

    The Romans were making candles as early as 500 BC. In China as well, as early as 221-206 BC. From ancient times to modern day times, the materials used have obviously changed to adapt from handmade to machinery made, a plethora of wax types used as well. The process has passed from generations to generations and has obviously seen many revolutions, no doubt.

    A point of appropriate note here would be to say that the ancient Greeks associated the use of candles to honor goddess Artemis’s birth, and this was specifically during lunar months on the sixth day specifically.

    Of course, times have certainly moved on from just that.

    When asked how he goes about making the candles, Yannis simply responded: “machinery.” Elizabeth updated that it was up-to-date machinery. He elaborated a little in Greek and when his daughter Elizabeth translated for me, the only specific added to his statement was that they also do a lot of work by hand. I didn’t press them further, as he didn’t seem all that intent on releasing any tricks of the trade and I don’t blame him, as a true artist never really talks about the artwork he unearths; he just unleashes it onto the world, very much like a sculptor.


    Interior of Astor Candles. Via Domenic Marinelli

    They have and offer custom candles … any size. Some were quite large. Some that I was shown were over a meter in height and over 12 inches in diameter.

    Right now they’re open Monday to Friday, 9-7 and on the weekend from 10-5.

    All candles are manufactured there; they also sell Icons—religious icons of equal beauty which are imported from Greece, France and Italy, but sold on the premises. Statues, busts, relics of the orthodox tradition—even mythology and the artists that brought us the most important of Greek myths are present and for sale. As I interviewed Yannis and his daughter, a small chrome statue of Homer, author of The Iliad and The Odyssey, stared down at me as I jotted down notes.

    It was odd for me, because it didn’t escape me that what Homer had created was built to last, and what this man that sat before me had built, and is still building, was made to whiter away in flame. Yet still somehow, it lasts for those that invest in his product, and in his own right, he is an artist and his work will live on through his daughters, family, the films his work has appeared in and in his legacy … a man that sells in Park Extension, and serves the community in good times and in bad … Yannis, the chandler.