A lovely floral scent wafts up the hill from 4th Avenue, beckoning downtown shoppers to the
Soap Chest, a cozy business where spa-like serenity and friendliness provide some of the best
bath and body products in the whole region!
Gail Horn has lived in Camas for nearly 25 years, her family born and raised here. She always
had a dream of having a shop in Downtown Camas. And five years ago, she made that dream
“We’ve always been proud of our downtown and love the quaint, cozy, friendly atmosphere,” Gail said. “There was really no other place we wanted to be!”
It was 20 years ago when Gail found that many of her family members had skin issues, and after discovering the benefits of handmade soap (mild instead of harsh, moisturizing instead of
drying), “I knew I’d found something wonderful. Being a dyed in the wool do-it-yourselfer, I set out researching and experimenting with natural soap recipes,” she said. “After giving some away for Christmas and seeing the positive reactions, I soon began churning out batch after batch of handmade soap and began selling it at craft fairs and farmer’s markets.”
Her small business continued in that vein as a “cottage industry” for many years. “All the while, I was honing my craft and delving into other natural bath and body products. When my kids began to leave the nest, the opportunity was ripe for realizing my dream of a retail shop. We began looking around and eventually found a tiny lot for sale and made plans for a mixed-use building that would accommodate The Soap Chest and a couple other tenants.”
The most fun part of building her own shop? “Designing my workshop area and carving out a spot out back for an herb garden!”
The building project was a challenge, she said it was quite a huge undertaking. “There had been no new buildings constructed in Downtown Camas for 30 years, so in that sense, we were trailblazing … wading through codes and regulations that hadn’t been used in a very long time.”
The hard work paid off, and after opening the shop, “we were blown away by the support and encouragement of the community. We already had a base of local customers after being a part of the Camas Farmers Market for several years. People knew us and we loved having a permanent location where folks could come and shop any time.”
Customers and fans of The Soap Chest number in the thousands, but Gail said she loves being small enough to do custom orders and produce special “hometown” products, like their Camas Lily soap, Columbia River Gorgeous, and Washington Apple and Sage. “Folks love to come in and buy products made in Camas, and we love providing them!”
But it’s not just the locals in love with The Soap Chest. “We get a significant number of tourists in the store, and they are always surprised to see a soap shop in our little town. Many of these customers order online when they return home.”
Right now, Gail said their best selling soap is Huckleberry, “not surprising since it’s a local favorite and smells amazing.” Other fan favorites are Milk & Honey (made with local goat milk) and Honeysuckle & Calendula (made with their own homegrown calendula). “I adore the ‘make it from scratch’ idea and strive to do this whenever possible,” she said. “When not able to produce it myself, I purchase ingredients from several local trusted sources which not only saves money on shipping, but supports our local economy as well.”
Gail said the future is bright in Downtown Camas and she looks forward to the day when 3rd and 5th Avenue are an even bigger part of the downtown core. “The Downtown Camas Association has made great strides in this area and I’m excited to see how it develops,” she said.