Tea & Treasures is turning 15, and owner Jenny Wolf couldn’t be happier – or prouder.
The shop at 4104 Martin Mill Pike is celebrating today and Saturday with an emphasis on 15.
There will be special 15 percent off discounts on tea and other items and 15 door prizes awarded over the two days. On Saturday, the shop’s popular Second Saturday Marketplace will feature music performances from Tom Smith (12-2 p.m.) and Barry Faust (2-4 p.m.). Food and drink will be available from Nacho Bisnez Food truck, Keoke Coffee Bar and Treats & Chill (a gluten-free bakery).
Featured artists and artisans will include painter Bobbye Edwards, Paul Burke (local author and illustrator), DMDesigns (handmade jewelry and accessories) and Marlene Burnett (seaglass jewelry and suncatchers, custom leather work). There will even be a tarot reader!
A gift shop that offers specialty teas and coffees along with locally made art and jewelry, nostalgic Knoxville items and consignment pieces, including new and vintage apparel, Tea & Treasures has come a long way since 2007.
“When we first opened, we maybe had some vintage items and six or seven artists,” recalls Wolf. Now they have 12 artists who do jewelry only, and “all in all, we have more than 50 artisans here, and at least that many if not more consignors of vintage and household items and things. It’s definitely grown and gotten bigger and fuller.”
Bobbye Edwards, a longtime friend and colleague, is still the artist-in-residence and Wolf’s “right arm.” But another change is that Tea & Treasures is about the only business in downtown Vestal remaining from 15 years ago. Nearly every other business – including the iconic Pease Furniture and King Tut’s – has closed or, as in the case of Allen Biermaken’s, moved elsewhere.
While other enterprises have moved in, and some are thriving, it’s a different neighborhood.
“My vision for this area, when I first took this on … was for this to become a little destination,” says Wolf. “Park your car. Walk from place to place. Do all the different little things. I’m still hopeful that that can happen someday.”
She and the operators of nearby Sustainable Future Center believe the Vestal Gateway Park could be the key to a business revival in Vestal and are working on ideas with community leaders. Meanwhile, the former Pease Furniture building has been sold by the Knoxville Martial Arts Academy, which is staying on while its new home in the Vestal/Mount Olive area is being built. The new owners sell windows, doors and carpets and are already using part of the building.
Housed in an attractive, traditional white-frame former residence, Tea & Treasures is open Fridays and Saturdays from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Patrons come from all around Knoxville and surrounding counties.
Says Wolf: “We get new people in here every day that we’re open, people that say, ‘Oh, I’ve been driving by here for years, and this is the first chance I’ve had to stop,’ or ‘I’ve always wondered what this was. Today I had time to stop.’
“And most people who come in end up coming back because they love it. We try to keep our prices to where people want to come back. We don’t try to outprice West Knoxville or Market Square or anything like that. We try to stay below so that people want to come here.”
Wolf is a big supporter of local businesses, not just her own.
“There’s all kinds of little mom-and-pop stores all over Knoxville that people don’t even know about or have heard about – just little hole-in-the-wall shops that are little hidden gems. Knoxville’s a very cultural town when you dig in. We’ve got a lot more going on than a lot of people realize, I think.”
Some of her most loyal customers come for the first “T.”
“We have a lot of regular tea customers that come here to buy their tea,” says Wolf.
The shop carries two brands of tea: Harney & Sons, which comes in a variety of flavors in teabags, silk tea sachets and loose, and The Skirted Soldier, which has 25 flavors of loose tea. They recently reintroduced Dandy Blend, a coffee substitute with no caffeine that’s made from dandelion root. And now the shop carries a line from Liberty or Death Coffee Co., which is a local coffee ground from Nicaraguan beans.
The Skirted Soldier is owned by an Air Force veteran who “does all of her own blending of teas,” says Wolf. She donates 10 percent of her profits to veterans organizations, Wolf adds. The Liberty or Death owner donates part of his proceeds to military and first-responder organizations.
The shop also has all the tea accessories: teapots, cups and saucers, tea infusers.
Wolf, who grew up in South Knoxville and went to school at Mooreland Heights Elementary and Young High, says the shop is her “passion.” She worked at Proffitt’s for about 28 years in the visual merchandising department, which is where she met Edwards.
“We traveled together and did all kinds of store openings and fashion shows,” she says. When Proffitt’s sold to Belk, Wolf saw an opportunity to get into her dream project. But during the 18 months it took to get her building ready for business, she started working for Talbott’s, where she has now been for 16 years.
“I had always wanted to do this, to have a shop that would promote local talent. I love antiques and I love thrift shopping and estate sales, and I had an opportunity and jumped right in.”
Wolf also loves how the shop has helped her reconnect with old schoolmates and other friends.
“Everybody knows everybody. It’s a lot of fun.
“South Knoxville gets in your blood. I love it.”
Betsy Pickle is a freelance writer and editor who particularly enjoys spotlighting South Knoxville.