Since Sally Collura opened The Tea Leaf at 487 Moody St. in November 2005, she has enjoyed greeting customers, making friends and coped with the challenges of owning small business. Now, take a few minutes to meet her.
Why did you your store open in Waltham instead of another town: “People would ask me if Waltham would support a tea room. There’s walk-by traffic, drive-by traffic and your storefront has to be noticeable. With the business of tea, people will drive up to one-hour to get here,” Collura said.
She continued: “I find this is a wonderful location because it’s close to Route 128 and Route 20. I have Waltham residents who like tea. There are local people who are regulars who come here. I got a call from a retired attorney in Florida to have a bridal shower for his future daughter-in-law. The students from Brandeis and Bentley come here as well."
Why did you choose to open this type of business?: “I would always have tea, and I would just unwind with some tea at the end of the day. I would take my mom to tearooms, and I just loved the environment. That’s what got me to really appreciate tea. Historically, it’s such an amazing story. The history of the Revolutionary War, the Boston Tea Party and tea was an imported good. The tax on tea was the highest tax we were charged. All of that fascinated me. The more I learned and more classes I took kept taking me towards this business.”
What is your average work day like?: “I take inventory of what I need, place orders, rearrange products in the shop, go through catalogs. I go through a lot of tea catalogs. Going through all of the tea and checking the expiration date. The shelf life of tea can last three to four years if stored properly. If the expiration date has passed, I take it off the shelf and put it in a bin where customers can buy it for a discounted price. Cleaning, daily food preparation, making sure I have all of the food products, ordering things … all of that is the day-to-day routine of the business. And tasting tea…I get different samples.”
What are the challenges of running a business?: “Obviously, in this economy, just managing money. I make sure, being a tearoom, that tea is well-stocked. Maintaining a good business sense, running a small business and doing it all yourself [are challenges]. Making wise business decisions, but also keeping up with the trends, and staying on top of business is a challenge, too. That way you can educate your customers and it’s a whole education in itself.”
What is your favorite part of running a business?: “People. People. In this business, I have met so many fantastic people who came in the front door as customers, and I consider them friends. I’m so fortunate to have met such fantastic people in this business. That’s just a bonus. The people are the plus.”
What is the worst part of running a business?: “Trying to be someone who runs a business alone [is challenging]. Doing it all is a little daunting sometimes, but it’s still fun. You have to like what you do. You have to be passionate to have a purpose to get up in the morning.”
Do you have plans to expand?: “As far as expanding the store physically, it isn’t doable in this economy. Would I have liked to? Absolutely. What I do want to expand on is the store on my website. That’s so important."
How many people do you employ?: “Right now, I am (the only employee), because of the economy. I employed a full-time person and a part-time person at one time. Now, until we recover from the economy, I’m here day-to-day. I’m fortunate to have a couple of nieces’ to help with bigger reservations. They know the business. I couldn’t do Mother’s Day weekend alone.”
Would you say your business has been successful?: “The economy has still not recovered completely. I’m still not doing business like I was three years ago. You still have to watch what you do. I would say it’s successful, when you open a customers’ “Thank You” card. Knowing how much people appreciate it and come back is rewarding. A very successful person in the tea business, Bruce Richardson, said, ‘Nobody ever gets rich in the tea business, but you do get rich in the rewards of business.’”