NILES — Since opening just a few years ago, Apothica Teas in downtown Niles has become a destination for more than tea, with unique events and an inclusive atmosphere.
The business has already expanded twice, once with the opening of an additional dining space to accommodate their increasing customer traffic and just this past week, with the grand opening of the The Great Hall and The Atelier upstairs event spaces. The tea shop’s mission, with its apothecary-style design and Victorian Steampunk decor, is to create an experience, whether customers are there for an event or simply enjoying drinks and snacks on any given day.
The dream of a tea shop had long been on the mind of owner Laura Hollister, but it was the unexpected loss of her job and the nudging of her husband that pushed her to start down the road of making Apothica Teas a reality. Inspired by the fantastic worlds of steampunk and dragons in her favorite books, she set about creating a physical manifestation of the escape she found when reading, joking that the shop is largely fan fiction of the worlds of her favorite author, Gail Carriger.
“Whenever I was sad, when I wanted to escape into a little fantasy bubble, I would escape into Gail Carriger’s world,” Hollister said. “This was created to be our own little bubble of fantasy. I didn’t think there’d be so many other people who wanted to escape with me.”
She joked about her conversations with fellow downtown business owners, who would tell her they could always tell who was heading to Apothica based on their dress. Customers are welcome to come in a variety of clothing, whether it be standard street clothes, a cloaked fantasy costume, or the old bridesmaid dress you love but never have a reason to wear.
“They can do what they want to do and not be judged for it,” she said.
All aspects of the Apothica Teas environment and offerings are intentional, with the aim to foster social connections in a calm and welcoming setting. The space offers tables small and large, areas for gathering and those for privacy. Tea was chosen as the product, according to Hollister, because the sight and feeling of a teapot and the vintage chinaware chosen by the customer from varied designs within a cabinet, sets a tone for interaction with staff, other customers, and with oneself.
“It allows me to create the setting and staging that I want for the experience,” she said.
Apothica is the home to many regular events, with new ones tested frequently. Laura describes herself as a stage manager, collaborating with employees and others in the community to give a home to their passions. Board game events are a normal occurrence, exposing people to new and unique games. Tea parties, costumed events, murder mysteries, painting, and crafting are just a sampling of what can be found on the shop’s Facebook events page. Musicians are invited to drop in and busk and customers are regularly treated to guitarists or pianists who arrive to add a soundtrack to the intimate atmosphere. Each event is designed to be broadly accessible.
The Insomnia Cafe is a late night option for those wishing to be out, but wanting an alternative to alcohol fueled spaces. Currently a monthly event, the tea shop is open late on both nights of a chosen weekend. Tabletop games are made available and customers are welcome to attend in pajamas. Hollister hopes the future will bring more staffing and allow her to make the well attended event a more regular occurrence.
The collaborations go beyond events, with numerous vendors selling products in the tea room. Local businesses make use of Apothica’s products, including in beers brewed by Niles Brewing Company and cocktails at Iron Shoe Distillery. The tea shop itself uses Iron Shoe whiskey in their bourbon bacon scones. Hollister sees collaboration with her downtown neighbors as an important part of the Niles community.
The Great Hall and The Atelier spaces will function primarily as rentable event spaces. The former is elegantly designed for weddings or other glamorous occasions, while the latter may be used as an expansion for those events or as a standalone for everything from business meetings to knitting groups. Hollister foresees a potential coworking space within the Atelier, providing seating, tables, a printer, and internet.
Much of the activity and growth at Apothica have come from suggestions from customers and ideas from employees. Hollister relies heavily on her team, having learned to trust them often more than she trusts herself. She says she’s learned many lessons in just a few years, one of which is to be responsive to opportunities and the ideas presented by those around her.
“I don’t know what adventures they have planned for me now,” she said.
Justin Flagel is the founder of Red Chuck Productions, where he writes, tells stories, and creates new media. Follow his work at redchuckproductions.com. Feedback can be directed to email@example.com.