Andy Buckman's new business is his way of bringing some of the exceptional parts of China to Bellingham.
Buckman recently opened Great Horse Teas on the first floor of the Sycamore Square building at 1200 Harris Ave. Buckman regularly visits farms in several different provinces of China, bringing back a variety of different loose leaf teas. He's learned through his visits that each region has a different strength when growing tea leaves, and makes a point to visit an area just as the harvest is beginning. His travels include regularly going to the tea plantations in the Xinjiang and Guangdong provinces.
Buckman's store also has traditional accessories for steeping the tea, and customers will regularly be introduced to Chinese music.
Buckman, who graduated from Western Washington University with a master's degree in anthropology, believes his shop is a good fit for Bellingham because people in this area have many connections to China and are not unfamiliar with the distinct flavors from the region. Instead of bringing back as many varieties as possible, he said he's focused on the ones he considers good, high-quality tea leaves.
Since opening the store in December with the help of his wife, Katrina, Buckman has seen a wide variety of customers, from truck drivers who can't drink coffee anymore to high school students to adults looking for the health benefits.
The business name is a tribute to the horses of China used to haul tea, particularly in western China.
"I can identify with their burden," he said with a chuckle, noting that he's spent a lot of time hauling big bags of tea through customs.
The store is open from noon to 7 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday. For details, visit the company's Facebook page or go to greathorseteas.com. The store phone number is 360-393-4043.
GIFT SHOP IN SUDDEN VALLEY
When opening a store in a small community, many businesses opt to stick with the basics. Chrysanthe Soukas and Susan Wesche decided to go the more eclectic route, and it's turning out well in Sudden Valley.
Last summer Soukas and Wesche opened The Spotted Pig in the Sudden Valley Village Shopping Center, near Tino's Pizza & Pasta Co.
The Spotted Pig focuses on antique, vintage and home décor items. The plan is to surprise residents with a variety of items whenever they walk in the store, said Soukas, whether it's old-school Pyrex mixing bowls or burlap coffee bags or another gem among the furniture, jewelry, books and toys.
Customers also have the opportunity to stump the owners. The store has a wish book where people can request specific items to track down. If something does come in that might be a good fit, the owners will take a photo and email it to the customer before putting it out for sale.
While the store does get people from outside the area, most of the customers are Sudden Valley residents. With such a small community, Soukas said it's important to genuinely connect with those who walk in the store.
"With this particularly business you let the people look around at their leisure for there are so many nooks and crannies to check out," Soukas said in an email about the space, which used to be the post office and a hair salon. "But eventually most people want to engage, especially when they realize I'm not there to be a pushy salesperson. I honestly enjoy people and making them feel comfortable."
One reason the shop has plenty of unusual items is because of the community, Soukas said. All of the artisans who have consigned work at the store are Sudden Valley residents. Most of the vendors also are from Sudden Valley.
"I never cease to be amazed at the many talented people in our community," she said.
The store is open 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday. For details, visit the store's Facebook page or call 360-656-5010.
-- A tenant improvement permit application was submitted to move clothing retailer Christopher & Banks into a different space in Bellis Fair. Currently near Abercrombie & Fitch, the new space is nearby in the JC Penney wing.
-- A "coming soon" sign is up for a business called Beauty Nails & Spa in the Target wing of Bellis Fair, next to Hallmark.