The Soap Opera
319 State St., 251-4051, www.thesoapopera.com
10 am-8 pm Mon.-Fri., 10 am-6 pm Sat., 11 am-5 pm Sun.
The place is like a mosh pit during the holidays, but all is calm on a Friday morning in January at the Soap Opera, the State Street store founded by Chuck Bauer and Chuck Beckwith 35 years ago next month. The pink and green emporium sells soap, cosmetics, perfume, rubber ducks and more soap.
'We only carry things we really like,' says Beckwith as he points out a shelf full of lotions bearing the house brand. 'Foot & Leg Lotion,' reads one ($13 for 473 milliliters).
Bauer and Beckwith are life partners as well as business partners. They met as students at UW-Madison, and they started the business out of necessity. Says Beckwith, 'We had just graduated, and I wanted a decent hairbrush. So we thought we could open a little shop and sell brushes.' Hairbrushes are still a mainstay, like a handsome boar-bristle one from Mason Pearson ($81).
You'll also find numerous potions to make you smell pretty, including real live eau de cologne from Echt KÃlnisch Wasser, in Cologne, Germany ($36 for 300 milliliters), as well as luminous lavender water from L'Occitane en Provence ($16 per liter). Or custom-blend your own scent from the wall of tiny bottles of fragrance, among them tangerine and ylang ylang.
But there is, especially, soap, from all parts of the world, in dozens of varieties. Bergamot-scented bar soap from Provence SantÃ is lovely ($18.50 for a box of four), or get those hands really clean with Crabtree & Evelyn's hand scrub with pumice ($18 for 250 grams). And don't forget the 'calming'-formula aromatherapy bubble bath for the little one, from California Kids ($12.50 for 384 milliliters).
So given the name, do Beckwith and Bauer like opera? 'We like it okay,' says Beckwith. 'It's part of the gay thing. Now that we're middle-aged gay men, we can enjoy things like opera.'