While reflecting on the last six years and comparing the original goals of Christine’s Secret Garden to the actual direction the business has followed, I smiled to myself. As an idea and later, a business plan that developed and would come to fruition, it was clear those original thoughts behind the business would be building blocks, only to continually change and evolve over time. What started out as a retail business that was to eventually grow into a tea room has gone into a completely different direction with many opportunities offered.
In 2006, while employed in an industry that had an uncertain financial future, I began to do some soul searching. Realizing I desired to take control of my own destiny, I began to research different businesses and found those that interested me most also placed me directly in front of any potential clients or customers. During that time, Prince Charles and his wife visited Philadelphia. A local woman who had a tea room in West Chester was selected to serve the Prince his favorite tea. Having caught my interest, I began to research the product, its history and culture and the impact it has on the GDP’s of countries it is grown, discovering it had more to offer than given credit in the United States. My decision was made and I would take my sales talents and apply them to a new career path – selling tea.
The first Christine’s Secret Garden opened in July 2007, to be replaced by a larger store in October 2008. The final and largest store opened in November 2009 and closed in April 2011. It was with mixed emotions that I closed the third store. When one has a retail store, one is married to it and does not have the freedom to come and go as needed. During the period the different stores were open, outside opportunities were presenting themselves and unfortunately, because of the commitment to whichever store was opened at the time, some of these opportunities needed to be passed by. One opportunity that was taken was a speaking engagement that opened up a new avenue for the business. In June of 2008, I was contacted by Macy’s Corporate Headquarters in New York City and was asked if I would be interested in speaking at Macy’s Lehigh Valley Mall. Martha Stewart’s new line of tableware was to be debuted that day and Macy’s was throwing a tea party for 120 of its customers. I needed to provide the tea, speak about the history of tea and the “High Tea” menu. (A real misnomer – Americans elevated the European meal “High Tea” to an elegant term. In Europe, it is a working class meal served in the evening). Since that engagement, other topics that I have presented are the health benefits of tea, the impact it has on GDP’s of countries it is grown and the differences between the teas, to name a few.
With social media as it is today, I have a number of contacts in the tea industry in Great Britain, Asia, India, Africa, and across North America. The acquaintances made and the need to learn the different cultures of the countries the tea is grown have brought lessons to the table I never would have taken. As I continue in this industry, my knowledge is enriched and I have a deeper respect and understanding of others and their cultures. At times, it has been a difficult road, but I would not undo or bypass anything because of what I have gained.
2013 is a pivotal year for me. In July, I will turn 50 and once again, I find myself thinking about taking the business in another direction or adding something new to its repertoire. For now, Christine’s Secret Garden is following the same paths it has taken over the last few years : The online retail store, speaking engagements, visibility and product placement in selected stores and events such as street fairs and holiday functions. The business is also involved in fundraising and I strongly believe in using the business to give back to the community.
Christine Stazo lives with her husband, Joseph Bartolanzo, of 27 years, their son, Nicholas and their dog, Emily, in Bushkill Township. Their two daughters currently attend college; Brittany majors in Illustration at The Pratt Institute and Danielle majors in Zoology/Plant Biology at the University of Vermont.
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