Malls Make it Easy for Local Tea Shops to Replace Teavana


Niraj Lama was so busy running his downtown tea shop he didn’t pay much attention to the news that a nearby Teavana, located at the Eastview Mall in Victor, NY was closing.

At least not until the mall operators came to call with an offer Happy Earth Tea could not refuse.

In January, Lama will open a second, 1,000 sq. ft. tea shop in the mall which threw into their offer expensive sinks, water filters, counters, lighting, shelving, and display racks that greatly reduced the expense of build out.

Teavana was happy to unload the furniture and fixtures following the July decision by parent Starbucks to close all 379 outlets. Most of these Teavana stores are located in malls nationwide.

While the nation’s largest shopping mall owner successfully forced Teavana to continue operating in 77 locations, as the new year begins there are hundreds of similar deals in the works.

The trick is to locate a mall where Teavana was thriving. Starbucks made it very clear that while some locations were dismal failures―despite additional training, remodeling, and promotions―others were returning handsome profits up to the day they abandoned shop. Stores in the latter category generate $1000 per square foot of retail space, grossing up to $1 million a year.

Eastview Mall is one of those locations. Situated in an upscale region near wine-famous Finger Lakes and owned and operated by Wilmorite Management Group, the indoor mall first opened in 1971. It houses more than 30 stores unique to the market including Apple, Brooks Brothers, Crabtree & Evelyn, Eddie Bauer, L.L. Bean, LEGO, Michael Kors, TUMI and Vera Bradley. There are five anchors including a Von Maur and a Regal Cinema along with top restaurants like P.F. Chang’s China Bistro.

Dennis Wilmot, vice president of leasing at Wilmorite told the Democrat & Chronicle that attracting local businesses has always been a priority for the company, but even more so recently to fill spaces vacated by national chains.

“As the retail landscape continues to evolve, there is a tremendous resource of successful local tenants and restaurateurs that we feel will help differentiate the experience at our properties,” he said.

Lama, 44, a native of Darjeeling, India, started his tea business online in 2011 after relocating to the U.S. He opened his first brick and mortar shop in 2016 at 650 South Ave., in the South Wedge neighborhood. He calls the Leaf Tea Bar a “sober pub,” a hangout for locals who want a taste of fine tea.

Lama travels often to Nepal and Darjeeling, India. He offers single-estate, hand-crafted teas, including herbals and he enjoys whipping up a bowl of matcha for patrons. His selection spans 50 teas with a few flavored blends. His focus is on the health benefits and the art of tea. Nearly all Happy Earth Teas are certified organic.

“Initially there was some hesitation. I was not sure the mall was a place for small independents, but we were aware that Teavana was really doing well. The mall approached us because of our local reputation. They wanted to keep tea available for customers and did not want someone else to go in there,” he said.

“I think we kind of fell into it,” he said, adding, “Without the Wilmorites actively courting and supporting us with terms favorable for a small independent shop this would not be possible.”

Initially the shop will offer dry tea and take away. Lama says the shop may expand to tea service “once I get a sense of mall customers and my staff.” He knows he will need to broaden his offerings to include blended, flavored teas.

Manning the store from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily and during weekend hours will significantly increase labor costs. “From the business stand point that is the biggest challenge. We are going from 2 employees to around 10,” he said.

He was able to hire some of the Teavana team and expects to open in early February.

Source: Democrat & Chronicle

Dan Bolton

About Dan Bolton

Dan Bolton edits STiR Tea & Coffee Industry International. He was formerly editor and publisher of World Tea News and former editor and publisher of Tea Magazine and former editor-in-chief of Specialty Coffee Retailer. He is a beverage retail consultant and frequent speaker at industry seminars and conferences. His work has appeared in many beverage publications. He was a newspaper reporter and editor for 20 years prior to his career in magazines. Dan is the founding editor of Natural Food magazine and has led six publishing ventures since 1995. He lives in Winnipeg, Canada.