If you stop by Row House Soaps (121 E. Main St., 602-717-7739 or rowhousesoaps.com ), owner Michael Walsh will greet you in a tie-dyed apron and probably ask if you'd like to learn about the soap he's making. Unless you happen to notice the framed medals on the wall, you're not likely to guess that he was a first sergeant in the Air Force. After 24 years in the military, Walsh needed a change. He and his wife, Sharon, had been making herbal soaps for years. When they moved to Richmond from Phoenix about four years ago, they started selling their soaps at festivals (which they still do). After meeting with success, they opened their shop about two years ago.
Since Walsh wanted a country-store atmosphere, Row House Soaps sells mirrors and pictures with frames that he crafted from 200-year-old wood. Also sold are antiques, pottery from local artist Sue Snider and Wake the Hell Up fair-trade coffee from Peru. "It's a shop, not a store," Walsh says. "It's friends, not customers."
But the main attraction, of course, is soap, handmade, all natural and certified vegan. Along with Lilac and Lavender soaps, you'll find varieties like Kitchen Soap. It's made with coffee, which gets rid of cooking odors, and its lime and orange oils leave a pleasant scent behind. "It has enough grit to clean," Walsh says, "but it's chemical-free, natural and moisturizing."
Walsh also offers after-hour, private classes for would-be soapmakers. You bring friends, he'll bring snacks and libations, and you can all spend a few hours making soap.