When Bing Imm Low purchased the small tea shop in the center of town two years ago, she had no background in business and little in the world of tea. But she knew she didn’t want to see the Vashon Tea Shop close, so she stepped forward — coming out of semi-retirement to try to keep the intimate café, a failing business at the time, afloat.
Since then, business has increased dramatically, she says, and she’s close to turning a profit. Now, she’s hoping someone else will step forward and take the shop to the next level, transforming it into a profitable business.
Low, 57, said running the small shop is a lot of work, and she wants to resume the traveling she and her husband William Carr enjoyed before they bought the business. Carr, a psychotherapist, handles the shop’s bookkeeping, while she runs the day-to-day operations.
“We need to be freed up, because we’re not getting any younger,” Low said as she sat at the café’s one outdoor table in front of the shop.
“There’s a lot of potential,” she added. “Some young, creative energy could take it farther.”
The shop is for sale, although she hasn’t officially listed it, she said. But through word-of-mouth, a couple of Islanders have expressed serious interest, and she and Carr recently sat down with them to show them the shop’s numbers.
According to Low, the business has grown under her watch. Her sales in-creased 70 percent last year over the previous year, and it would likely be profitable this year, she said, if she hadn’t decided to hire five or six people to staff most of the shifts.
“Every shift is hired out,” she said. “Whatever profits we might have made have gone into wages.”
Running the shop — which boasts 80 different kinds of teas — has been enjoyable, she said. Last year, for instance, she traveled to Taiwan as part of a tour organized by a Seattle tea vendor and met some of the farmers that make the teas she sells.
“I’ve learned so much,” she said.
But at the same time, Low, who used to train people to become chaplains in New York City, says she’s looking forward to having a life with a little less responsibility again. When she bought it from Susan Bassett two years ago, she worked at the shop part-time.
“It’s been a wonderful new challenge, and I think we’ve done well. And I really believe the right person will come along,” she said.