July 5, 2012

Spice Merchant to devote space to selling tea

Spice Merchant owner Bob Boewe is preparing to transform his former deli space into an area exclusively devoted to tea.

Spice Merchant owner Bob Boewe is preparing to transform his former deli space into an area exclusively devoted to tea.

“This will be 1,200 square feet dedicated to tea,” Boewe said. “That’s a pretty good-size tea area.”

Coffee still is at least 45 percent of sales for the store at 1308 E. Douglas, which is just east of Old Town, but Boewe said tea sales have grown to at least 10 percent of sales.

“If we look back five years … I would say we’re probably selling double the quantity of tea we were selling then,” Boewe said. “It would have been real hard to predict that back then.”

Boewe has attended the international tea expo for years, and in the last several years he said the tea boot-camp classes “are just maxed out.”

“There’s just more buzz about tea as a beverage.”

Though Boewe doesn’t market it as a health drink, he said that’s a big component, too.

“People are looking for more choices.”

Since Boewe closed his in-store deli eight years ago, he’s loaned that area to people for parties and showers. He didn’t want to lease the space to anyone on a regular basis, though, because he keeps his coffee in part of that area.

“We couldn’t take a risk of somebody fooling around with our coffee,” he said.

He already has a lot of tea and accessories, which he’s sold since he opened in 1980, but Boewe said they’re not arranged and presented in the best way possible.

“Just maybe we’ll become more organized,” he said.

There will be bright new colors and furniture for the tea area, including some repurposed architectural items from places such as Nepal and India.

“Eclectic chic” is how Boewe describes it.

“It’s going to be fun.”

Boewe is considering offering flights of tea, similar to flights of wine that restaurants offer. He said he also may partner with Susy Ellis, the new owner of Monica’s Bundt Cake, to provide scones and other treats.

“We’re not going to be a luncheon high-tea place,” Boewe said. “We’re going to have a few tables and maybe some way to do some tasting.”

Most of Wichita’s tearooms have closed, and Boewe said he knows why.

“It’s a tough business.”

Boewe thinks having a dedicated area for tea sales makes sense, though.

“This is just going to be an effective use for this.”

The move also will free up the store’s current tea area for new products.

“I know my manager just cannot wait to find more merchandise to put in that area,” Boewe said.

For example, more kitchen gadgets are a possibility.

“We won’t have any trouble filling the space, that’s for sure.”

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