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Once ‘gypsy’ opens Berlin soap shop

(May 28, 2015) First the idea grew, not unlike a musical composition, with a few bars at a time. But instead of a symphony, this composition is soap, pure and handmade.
It began four years ago when Salisbury native Jon Conley started making soap for his family. The products were so well received he started selling them to the public, first at farmer’s markets and arts and craft shows, as he described it, “pretty much being gypsies.”
On May 1, Conley opened his own store, Uncle Jon’s Soap & Sundries, in downtown Berlin, in the former location of Bungalow Love on Williams Street.
“We’ve been making soap and other bath items for years, but I got tired of loading and unloading my truck for every event,” Conley said. “We’ll still do a couple events, but now we’re hoping people start coming to me.”
The majority of the products in the shop are made onsite, including the signature soap made with a base of olive oil, coconut oil and soy. Homemade balms are made with coconut oil and raw bee’s wax.
Conley said his products differ greatly from the mass manufactured items found at drug and grocery stores.
“Most of those are not true soap – they’re detergent bars,” he said. “Soap is actually a process. It’s a strong base with oils or fats, and then you go through the process of emulsification and saponification, and that’s what turns it into soap.”
Emulsification is any colloidal suspension of a liquid in another liquid. Saponification, a fancy word for soap making, is the hydrolysis of a fat by an alkali with the formation of a soap and glycerol.
“Some of the store-bought soaps have so many unnecessary ingredients in them,” Conley said.
While commercial soaps can cost as little as 99 cents, Uncle Jon’s soaps start at $5.50, with discounts available if you purchase multiple bars.
The value of his products, Conley said, is in their simplicity and character.
“There are so many ingredients in [commercial soaps] that you don’t need,” he said. “Not all of them are harmful, but there’s more than I would care to have in something I’m using. And, I can crank out a bunch of different scents.
“Here everything has character,” Conley continued. “We just came up with a couple new scents like ‘Dune Grass,’ which is a nice fresh scent, and we added a little color to give it kind of a grassy color. It’s something a little different that will pique people’s interest.”
For purists, Uncle Jon’s also carries baby soaps, with no added color or scent, and no coconut oil to avoid allergies.  
The shop also carries an extensive line of all-natural beard-care products. Conley, showing his dedication to his own wares, began growing a beard to go with his line of beard balms.
“I always had a bit of a goatee, but I started growing this about a year and a half ago,” he said. “I started making [the balm] for some of my friends that grow beards and work at different businesses around the county, and then they all started making fun of me. ‘How are you going to make beard stuff if you can’t use it?’ They bet me I wouldn’t grow it untrimmed for a year, which I actually did.”
Today, Conley’s mighty beard is roughly a foot long, covering the entirety of his neck and extending well below his shoulders. It’s enough to make ZZ Top blush.
“I started trimming it up after the first year, just to give it some more shape, and now we have a new logo coming out for our beard stuff soon and it involves a caricaturized version of me,” Conley said. “I don’t see it going anywhere anytime soon.”
Uncle Jon’s Soap & Sundries is located on 12 William Street, Berlin, Md. The store is open 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday, and noon to 3 p.m. on Sunday.
For more information call 443-783-1829 or visit