In the Spring of 1989, a friend and I began selling some craft items at local street fairs and shows. I was a year out of college and was an assistant buyer for a local chain of Christmas stores. I had worked in a very nice gift shop and a flower shop in high school and college and did lots of crafts in my spare time, so selling our wares was an obvious move. After the first couple of shows, we quickly realized that we would have to give up our social lives and make our merchandise in all our spare time if we were to keep our booth full. Since I had a buyer badge for our regional wholesale gift mart, it was an easy decision to supplement our handmade stock with other goods. We sold Yankee Candles and some stationery products at our next show and they were a hit. Several shows later, we were basically a gift shop that travelled, with a few craft items to cutesy up the displays! By November of 1989, I had quit my job and we had a short-term lease for a little space inside Aurora Village Mall in North Seattle. We did okay, considering that the mall was in steady state of decline. (No wonder they were willing to take a risk with two young girls signing a commercial lease!) By the middle of the next year, the mall was nearly empty and we found out that they were getting ready to demolish the place, so we began looking for another mall that would take a chance on us.
In the Spring of 1991, we moved into our brand new location at Factoria Mall. We had hired an architect and chosen a contractor to build out a previously unfinished space, designed a sign/logo and had a trompe l’oiel painter cover the storefront with ivy. And ordered loads of merchandise to fill the 1500 square feet. This was to be our home for the next 15 years.
Things went along smoothly for a long time. We had artist signing parties every so often, and set up vignettes in the middle of the mall featuring exciting new products. We dealt with the Beanie Baby craze and the long lines that went along with each new release and had a great staff who enabled us to have days off, take vacations and enjoy life. Then in 2001, the coffee shop that was next door to us closed, leaving an empty space between us and the center court of the mall. For the next year, several different businesses occupied the space, but none were viable, at least in that location. In 2002, we (along with my sister Mary) got an idea to hold a tea party on Mother’s Day weekend for our good customers. We asked mall management if they would let us use the empty space since it still had a couple of sinks and big counters. They gave us the go-ahead, so we began scouting out tables and chairs at yard sales and gave everything shabby a quick coat of white paint. We added curtains and table runners made of pretty floral sheets (from Goodwill) , washed up lots of the china we sold in the gift shop, borrowed a few pictures and wreaths off the walls of the shop, brought in a few things from our homes and began planning our menu.
Then we applied for the temporary permit from the health department. Oops! It turns out that the permit would cost more than all of our tables, chairs and decor combined! And it was valid for 21 days. Since we sold out our Mother’s Day Tea really quickly, we decided that the only way to justify the high cost of the permit, was to use it more than just the two days. After all, the rest of it was set up and ready to go. So we came up with a couple of sandwiches and salads to offer for lunch on the days following the Mother’s Day tea and to our surprise, people actually came! We had sort of figured we might catch a few folks who couldn’t get tickets to the tea and mall employees looking for something new, but everyone who came loved our food and said they’d be “regulars” if we opened permanently.
We hired a restaurant consultant, Mark (being handy and all) built out our kitchen, and our families worked tirelessly getting ready to open with real kitchen equipment. Mary and I experimented in the kitchen daily to come up with our recipes and we are serving those same foods today. Our scones, cranberry salad, pea salad and Cashew Chicken Salad are still our most popular menu items. November of 2002, The Secret Garden Tea Room opened for business.
Once again, everything ran smoothly for a couple of years. Then the mall ownership changed and they quit renewing leases because they had plans to tear down sections of the mall to create a multi-story mixed-use complex. Our lease was up at the end of January 2006, so we started looking for a new location. One of our long-time gift shop gal had a husband in real estate, so we asked him to keep us in mind for a location in Bellevue, Issaquah or Kirkland. The next day he showed up with pictures of a Victorian mansion in Sumner. “Whoa”, we said. “We’ve already got a house and we’re looking for a quiet little strip mall not too far from Factoria”. But we kept the photos and showed them to our parents. Mark’s mom suggested that we just go take a look at the place since we love old houses. So we loaded up the van with his parents and drove 35 minutes south. As soon as we walked in the front door, we started placing our furniture and gift shop displays. It was perfect! When we brought my parents down to see it a couple of days later, they agreed and with the help of both sets of parents, we were able to make the deal, and got the keys on November 1, 2005. Here’s what the house looked like then.
As we began telling customers that we’d be moving, we were surprised to learn how many were from Kent, Auburn, Federal Way and other points South of Bellevue. The move away from our “home” base began to seem less scary. We packed up the shop and tea room right after Christmas, and thought we’d be open by early March in our new beautiful location. Ha! The “cosmetic” projects became infrastructural projects that required permits and contractors and thousands of hours of labor. Once again, thank heavens for families with not only time to help, but the skills to get things done right. We finally got open in November of 2006, and although the house will never be “done”, it is a dream come true. What a joy to live, work and raise a family in this beautiful piece of history, while sharing it with the lovely friends we call customers.
- Disney Gift Shop Truck Makes Appearance in Downtown Orlando (thedailycity.com)