Downtown Apothecary reels in customers with pleasant scents and fresh ingredients

by Treva Flores

Walking along Main Street one sunny afternoon I was hypnotized by fresh floral fragrances, spicy cinnamon scents and pungent peppermint perfumes. 

Following my nose I wandered into Downtown Apothecary, a quaint shop located across from the Mission Inn Hotel & Spa.

Downtown Apothecary made its debut in Sept. 2015 and has become a hidden gem in Riverside’s community.

The charming shop easily blends in with the rest of downtown, but the smell is one to remember.

The doors stand wide-open and a white sign stating specials on soaps sits in front of the store.

Inside there is a superfluous amount of displays for soaps, bath bombs and sugar scrubs in a multitude of fragrances such as Mimosa, Mojave Trail and Eucalyptus Mint.

There is something for everyone inside the store, including more “manly” scents such as Stone, Leather and Absinthe that really would smell good on anyone.

With the popularity of products from Lush rising in recent years as women began to post pictures of their colorful bathtubs on social media, it’s a surprise that Downtown Apothecary hasn’t blown up.

Downtown Apothecary owner, Tonya Harper has been making soap for 15 years. She has sold her soap wholesale, online and previously owned a warehouse before opening her shop in Riverside.

“I always wanted to have a retail store because it’s hard to smell things online,” Harper said.

The shops products contain only oil, butter and either water, goat milk or beer, which sets it apart from commercialized products.

“My goal is to provide handmade soaps and body products for the community that we live in and also for visitors,” Harper said. “[My goal is] for them to see the difference in handmade soap versus commercially made soap.”

Many commercialized products use detergents in their soaps, “which can strip your skin of its natural oils,” Harper said. “I’d say about 30 percent of our customers are repeat customers because they like the way that the soap made their skin feel.”

Not only does the store refrain from using detergent, but the products are made on-site by Harper and one of her employees. According to the Downtown Apothecary website, “We make our soaps in small batches of 33-44 bars and hand cut and label each one. Our scents are each unique.”

Plus the store uses local ingredients by buying goat milk as well as avocado, carrots and zucchini from local farms or local stores.

Comparatively, the Lush website lists their soaps such as Outback Mate, Serendipity and Respect Your Elders as all including the ingredient “fragrance.”

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration website states, “under U.S. regulations, fragrance and flavor ingredients can be listed simply as ‘Fragrance’ or ‘Flavor.’”

The FDA website also states, “Fragrance and flavor formulas are complex mixtures of many different natural and synthetic chemical ingredients, and they are the kinds of cosmetic components that are most likely to be ‘trade secrets.’”

It’s a mystery what “fragrance” might imply in Lush’s products, but it’s better to be safe than sorry.

Downtown Apothecary products are only $1-2 more expensive than Lush, but it’s a price worth paying considering that they use more natural ingredients in their products. Downtown Apothecary also offers a coupon for the following month with every in store purchase, keeping customers coming back for more.

“Right now we have our soap stacks as half off, we have three different in-cuts of our soap batches,” Harper said. “Sometimes we have a buy four get the fifth bar free.”

The store already offers products beyond soap such as candles, nail polish and perfume. Harper has been testing lip scrubs, face masks and lip balms as potential future products.

If there’s one thing people should care about, it’s their soap because without the right kind of soap, skin can become irritated and dry.

Downtown Apothecary is great not only for its products, but its care for the surrounding community, not to mention it also gives downtown Riverside a very refreshing scent.