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Hub City General Store offers tea, and more

April 02, 2006|By CANDICE BOSELY

When Steve Kendall relocated his business, Hub City General Store, out of downtown Hagerstown he had a rough idea of what to expect.

Those expectations were quickly met and exceeded.

"We've done more (business) here in five months than what we did in two years downtown," Kendall said one recent afternoon from his new site on Burhans Boulevard.

His business previously was on West Washington Street, but last September moved to a building that formerly housed a drug store at 201 N. Burhans Blvd., near the intersection with Salem Avenue.

The larger location - square footage increased trifold - enabled Kendall and his business partner, Susan Rauth, to open a tea room on the second floor.

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The Victorian tea room, overseen by Ranata Koontz, features a chandelier, seating for up to 30 people, formal place settings and china.

It's used most often by groups like the Red Hat Society. A six-course full afternoon tea service featuring soup, quiche, salad, fresh baked goods including scones, tea sandwiches, fruit, desserts, sorbet and, of course, tea, costs $18.95 per person.

Other options also are available, with prices ranging from $6.95 to $16.95 per person.

Kendall said he hopes to "tone down" the room to make it more welcoming to those who don't want to wear a formal hat and gloves while taking part in a tea service.

Adding work from a local artist each month is one idea, he said.

The main floor of the shop already has a casual atmosphere.

On this sunny afternoon a partially completed puzzle sat atop one table, while nearby three people were engaged in a game of Scrabble.

The shop sells organic fair trade coffee beans, as well as 64 varieties of loose-leaf tea. The most expensive, Peony White Needle, is a rare type of white tea that sells for more than $200 a pound.

Bulk tea prices start at $33 a pound, but smaller packages are available. Teas available include numerous varieties of black, oolong, red, green and herbal. A hot Chai latte also is served, as well as brewed coffee.

In the new location Kendall said he planned to focus more on retail operations, including selling fresh baked goods and candies made on site.

He said good-natured badgering from customers prompted him to add a lunch menu that includes sandwiches, filled croissants, soups and quiches.

Kendall said he attributes his success at his new location in part to having a parking lot. Plus, he said, customers do not have to deal with the "oddballs" who sometimes linger downtown.

Kendall said customers complained about such loiterers at the old location.

While loyal customers followed him to the new site, a more affluent customer base has grown. They include those who already knew of gelato.

A form of Italian ice cream that does not contain the butter fat found in traditional ice cream, gelato is a mainstay at the shop. Dozens of varieties are available and the ingredients for the dessert are imported from Italy.

Hub City General Store first opened downtown on Dec. 20, 2003.

"We break a lot of traditional business rules. We make a lot of things up as we go and it works for us," Kendall said, giving as examples opening five days before Christmas and selling gelato.

"General store" items include stoneware dishes, wooden clocks, quilts, soaps, Robert Rothschild Farm Food products, cards and Blue Crab Bay Co. food products.

Kendall said he tries to ensure that items sold at the store are unique. If an item being sold at his shop starts to become commonly available he said he'll look for something to replace it - leeway allowed by having the shop named a general store.

Kendall, 32, was born and raised in Washington County. Before moving back he worked in Myrtle Beach, S.C.

After returning to Hagerstown he spent about seven months without a job, being told he was either overqualified or underqualified for jobs he sought.

"Instead of waiting for someone else to give me a job I created a job," he said.

The shop's hours are Mondays through Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m., and Sundays from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.

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