OREGON – When Lynnel Olson first heard that she had been named Soap Maker of the Year, she thought it was a prank call.
“When she called the first time, I hung up on her,” said Olson, owner of the Oregon Soap Shoppe and Green Art Etc.
Once she realized the call was legitimate and that she had earned the award from the National Registry of Soap Makers, she said was pleased.
“I was deeply honored by the fact that they chose me, because to be honest with you, I didn’t know anybody knew about me or paid attention,” Olson said. “So that was pretty cool.”
Olson, who runs the shop with her husband Michael, has been making soap for about 32 years, before there was a National Registry of Soap Makers. She said back then, there were 11 soap makers around the country who kept in touch through their own self-made newsletter.
Before she made soap, Olson was a nurse. But she moved to Oregon from Rockford with her former husband to be a farm wife. It was then that she first got into making soap. Since there was no Internet in those days, she had to learn anyway she could. One things she did was read encyclopedias to get information.
Trial and error were also important to the process – learning to use heat effectively, and what oils are best.
Olson said the formulas they developed for their soaps use food grade oils. And all bars of soap that they sell can be used as shampoos as well.
“We use lots of good stuff in it for people, so it’s luxurious for their skin,” she said.
After making soap at home – often leaving soap out front when she was not home for customers to come by, pick it up and leave money – she opened a shop in Conover Square. For the past 18 years, the shop has been at its current location, 91C S. Daysville Road in Oregon.
The shop allows for plenty of parking for customer, and a place for them to make the soap.
“I used to make it at home in the basement, but that got really old hauling it up and down the steps,” she said.
When the current location opened, Michael said they sold 156 different kinds of soaps. That is now at about 500. Not all are always on the shelf, as some are seasonal or for special occasion.
Michael said they do make soaps for businesses like a bed and breakfast and for special events like weddings.
If that sounds like a lot of soap, it is a lot of soap. Olson said they make about 5,000 bars a month.
And those bars are sold all over the world. Michael said they have sold to people in Australia, China and England. And people who are travelling often make a special trip to Oregon just to grab some soap.
“We have people who have taken detours (to buy soap),” Olson said.
Even the recent pandemic didn’t slow them down much. The City of Oregon deemed the business essential, so they continued to make and sell soap. Soap, by the way, which can kill the virus.
“People did not come in,” she said of sales at the height of the pandemic. “People were afraid to come in.”
So, they delivered the soap to their cars.
The business is open 10 a.m.-5:30 p.m. Tuesday through Friday, and 9 a.m.-5:30 p.m. on Saturday.