Shortly before Tea Lady officially became a tea business, co-owner Carol Welch was pouring tea during Arts Walk in downtown Olympia in the fall of 1993.
Suddenly a voice rang out in Welch’s direction: “Hey! Tea Lady!”
And so a business name, if not the business, was born.
Tea Lady eventually got underway in January and for the next 20 years called Olympia home, most of it spent downtown. The business probably is best known for its days at Washington Street and Fifth Avenue. It later moved to the Wildwood Building on Capitol Boulevard and then to Steele Street, which is between Martin Way and Pacific Avenue near the Martin Way Diner.
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But that will be Tea Lady’s final stop. Welch and her husband and co-owner, Felix D’Allesandro, have decided to call it quits. They threw a customer appreciation party, including live music, last Saturday, and this week they are busy selling their remaining selection of teas, furniture and fixtures.
“It has been a great ride,” D’Allesandro said.
There are several reasons the business is closing, he said. D’Allesandro, 67, has already retired from one job -- his state job in 2009 -- plus he’s also had some recent health challenges. Tea sales have remained strong, he said, but that wasn’t the case for gifts and accessories, such as teapots. Sales haven’t dropped to the point that they couldn’t run the business, but it was a reminder of the hard work ahead, and that it would be a lot easier if he was younger, he said.
“I can spend some time not being in business every day,” D’Allesandro added.
Longtime customer Ruby Elliott of Olympia stopped at the business Wednesday, saying staff were always nice and helpful.
“They just seemed to be part of my life,” she said. Elliott said she understands that she can find tea at a grocery store, but it’s not the same.
“It’s not like coming here,” Elliott said, adding that she’ll miss her conversations with staff.
Welch and D’Allesandro also will say goodbye to three longtime employees, but Tea Lady will live on in other ways. The giant teapot outside the business will be donated to the Northwest Tea Festival in Seattle, which takes place in October, and the Tea Lady website will be maintained. They won’t sell through it, but it will remain up as an informational destination about tea, possibly including tea reviews, Welch said.
The two also are willing to share their expertise and experience about opening a tea retailer.
One of their most popular teas was Xanadu Dragonwell Green, a Chinese green tea.
“We’ve just had a tremendous outpouring of love and support from customers,” said Welch, 64.
Tea Lady is set to close at the end of the month, but it could be sooner than that if everything sells out, Welch said. It’s open 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. this week and 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday.