A painted purple door at 222 E. Main St. in downtown Niles serves as a portal to a land of frivolity and fun. Akin to the door Dorothy passes through on her way to Munchkinland, or the tiny door Alice enters in Wonderland, this purple portal leads the way to the world of whimsy Laura and Shane Hollister spent the summer of 2019 creating.
Inside the space, guests will find ceramic mugs with tentacles, derby hats with feathers, ornately painted cups and saucers, colorful penny candy and rows upon rows of more than 40 blends of tea.
During a soft opening in November, curious guests passed through the purple door to witness the transformation, to which Laura called out, “What’s the password?”
Those in on the game replied, “Wisteria.” The magic word was shared in speakeasy fashion with a modern-day twist — via social media.
The soft opening of Apothica Teas was a precursor to the grand opening that happened that Sunday, when the general public was invited (no password required) to purchase tea, coffee, scones and other teatime treats — all made from scratch in the steampunk-themed teashop.
At the soft opening, the Hollisters bustled about the shop helping guests choose tea that suited their liking, pointing out details added during renovations and preparing dishes to serve close friends and family. When the family began toying with the idea to open a tea shop four years ago, Laura made up her mind that it would be located in Niles.
“We didn’t even think of putting it anywhere else,” she says. “In part because we love Niles, but in part because we knew this was where the support was. This town has been so supportive of our family forever.”
In addition to a place to serve tea, the Hollister family — made up of Shane, Laura and their six sons — hope to create an atmosphere where people can gather and enjoy each other’s company, whether for a business meeting or a board game.
“Because I’ve done so much at the library, I see how frequently people are there looking for somewhere where they are allowed to exist without being problematic,” says David, one of the Hollisters’ middle sons. “A lot of people are looking for somewhere to go and some group to be in.”
The Hollisters worked hard to create a space where anyone can relax with a cup of tea, but also embrace their imagination. Each detail was carefully crafted to the steampunk theme, which focuses on steam-powered, old-fashioned machinery rather than modern technology. Take, for example, the “boiler-full-of-drama” coffee maker, which requires an open flame and a hand grinder. Everything from the décor on the exposed-brick walls to the outfits the employees wear is modeled to create the vision that visitors have passed into a steampunk setting.
“I think people want to have a little sense of adventure in a world that can sometimes be repetitive, sometimes a little bit lackluster,” Shane says. “You have a little bit of fancy and a little bit of creativity, and that makes them feel excited.”
Shane says he has made it his mission to make his wife’s vision a reality.
“My vision is just kind of to support Laura’s vision,” he says, smiling across the room at his wife of 30 years. “I’m most looking forward to making her smile.”
Part of that vision is to create a place where people will collaborate and make friends, just as Apothica Teas is collaborating with its neighbors and fellow community members.
“Part of a healthy community is the cooperation between businesses and people, so we have been making a very pointed effort to use local sources whenever possible,” Laura says.
Shelves are lined with artwork created by local artists. Coffee is roasted by Red Dog Coffee Roasters out of Buchanan. The Paris Soda Co. will smoke meats and cheese for the teashop, and lavender will be locally sourced from Lavender Hill Farm in Niles. Eventually, Niles Brewing Co. will use the teashop’s tea to create shandies to serve at the brewery.
That Sunday morning in November, the Hollister family entered through the purple door dressed in period attire, excited for their first day of business.
“I’m trying to give people permission to be playful. I’m trying to take frivolity very seriously,” Laura says with a wink.
Photography by Timothy Ritter