Bittersweet Soaps & Apothecary specializes in handmade hygiene, skin care

Kellie Houx/Staff Photo

Jill McDowell Lincoln stands amid her displays at her store, Bittersweet Soap & Apothecary, 111 N. Water St. Items for sale in the store include handmade soaps, cleaning supplies, a skin care line, women’s clothing and accessories.

LIBERTY — Jill McDowell Lincoln’s business cards include the words “alchemist” and “purveyor of fine soap and sundries.” The alchemist part is apropos for Lincoln. During medieval times, an alchemist attempted to convert base metals into gold or to find a universal elixir. It was the forerunner of chemistry and Lincoln does a lot of that as a fourth-generation soap maker. With her recent addition of skin care, she is also helping others with their own transformations at Bittersweet Soap & Apothecary.

What exactly does your business do?

“In 1997, I started with soaps and bath salts,” she said. “Now the store offers a fragrance department to customize signature bath salts, body spray, dry oil and perfume. There are 100 different scents to choose from and mix. I’m also getting ready to launch a scent of the month. There’s also a skin care line, house cleansers, women’s clothing and accessories and other home décor items. It’s about a full shopping experience.”

What does your business name mean?

“My mom named my business before she passed a few years later,” Lincoln said. “It was such a blessing and she helped me so much. She was an inspiration and it was that bittersweet time. I owe my mom, Alice Kerr; and my dad, Bob Kerr; and of course my step-mom, Mary Jo.”

How did you get started in this field?

“Early on, I was working to get my name and product out. I was selling wholesale around the Midwest. I’m a fourth-generation soap maker and deal with dry skin,” she said. “My aunt, Vivian Nelson, sent me a bar of soap and that changed my life. I quit my job as a codes enforcement officer with the city and knew I had found my calling without a doubt. Then I knew I needed a retail store. Soaps were trending so I knew I need to be different. That’s when I added the home cleaning supplies. I figured if I needed something for myself or my home, I’ll figure up how to make it.

What makes this business challenging?

“It’s important to keep evolving,” Lincoln said. “I have to have challenges. I have the same passion I had when I started. I can’t wait to come to the shop. I’m blessed and I thrive on the customer one-on-one interactions. I was raised and influenced by strong women who taught me to run toward the challenges of life.”

Who do you go to when you need business advice?

“I turn to my faith and pray when I need some guidance,” she said.

What makes this business rewarding?

“In 21 years, I love to listen to customers,” she said. “They tell you what they want. I enjoy helping them. I have helped people who have come in the store in tears and the lotions and such have healed cracked feet or a young person has gotten away from acne medicine because of my skin care line. I treat every day as a gift, and I’m fortunate to make a living doing what I love.”

What surprises people most about your business?

“It’s fun when people discover the store is here in Liberty,” she said. “I could have had my shop anywhere, but Liberty is dear to my heart. The other is that the store is not just soaps, but clothing and accessories. I try to keep the same inspiration I have when I make the soaps and other items to purchasing clothes, jewelry and other accessories. I think about the style. It’s a mix of boho chic and some timeless pieces that are perfect for all ages.”

What is your most popular product or service?

“My biggest sellers are still my soaps and now the cremes and lip balms are catching up,” she said. “I average about 100 bars of soap a day. I make 20,000 bars annually. They are pH tested and the base is olive and coconut oils.”

What’s next for your business?

“I want to continue to grow. I believe I am doing something right. I am enjoying it,” she explained. “I’m also thrilled that my husband has offered to help me make soap. The soap making is part of my DNA. I’m very blessed to make a living off of what I do.”

Southeast Editor Kellie Houx can be reached at or 389-6630.

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