Where is your third place? “Third place”, a concept picked up on by Starbucks and coined by Ray Oldenburg in his book “The Great Good Place”, is a place of community separate from the first place, home, and the second, work. A third place is a place that’s “important for civil society, democracy, civic engagement, and establishing feelings of a sense of place” (Wikipedia). Oldenburg says third places are vital for community life and improved interactions. He further states that (again according to Wikipedia), that these are “hallmarks of a true ‘third place’: free or inexpensive; food and drink, while not essential, are important; highly accessible: proximate for many (walking distance); involve regulars – those who habitually congregate there; welcoming and comfortable; both new friends and old should be found there.”
Today I grabbed several rejuvenating hours at one of my third places, my favorite oasis of calm, TeaLula in Park Ridge, Illinois, http://www.tealula.com/. TeaLula’s not frou-frou, not at all like an English teashop ( I’m not putting down English teashops, mind you, although last time I was in London, most of the teashops were Starbucks); an eclectic space that appeals to people of either gender and of all ages. The décor is clean wood, has discreet but attractive lighting, with lots of color and interest provided by the various teapots, cups and tea paraphernalia for sale. A wall with probably a hundred wooden cubbyholes holds bags of tea, ready for sale and complete with description and instructions. A container of each tea is available there too, so that you can open the container and smell the tea. Every day there’s a different tea featured on the tasting table and if you’re uncertain what you’d like, even after their advice, they’ll happily brew up a small amount of whichever tea you’d like to try for you to taste before making your final decision.
You won’t just see women of a certain age chatting over their tea. City workers (male, too) come in, policemen, as well as older couples–regulars who come in to sit, have tea and talk with the knowledgeable, friendly help; high schools students (both male and female) traipse or saunter in after class or during days off; in essence, no one feels uncomfortable there, except maybe those who only drink coffee…and then only if they won’t try one of the hundred or so teas on offer. They’re always welcome to sit with a tea-drinker, talk and relax. Or you can get your tea to go, hot in winter, iced in summer, however you like it.
I discovered TeaLula when our younger daughter needed a ride to meet a friend from her time in Japanese camp the summer before. Turns out TeaLula is one of the places he likes to hang out which is, probably, a bit unusual for a teenage boy. When we parked outside on the edge of Park Ridge’s attractive downtown area and a stone’s throw away from the Metra station, the plan was to drop my daughter off, then I would go somewhere else, so she and her friend could hang out in peace. Once I glimpsed the selection of teas, there was no way I was leaving!
This isn’t a Starbucks or Caribou; there are two small tables in each of the two front windows and a small number of seats at the tea bar farther into the store. There’s no wi-fi; this is a tea-drinking, conversation-encouraging establishment. There are scones for sale and perhaps a few other edibles, but you’re encouraged to stop at a nearby bakery and bring your spoils in for noshing. I’ve often brought my own from home or elsewhere and that’s not only fine, they’ve provided a plate, silverware and a napkin when needed. Definitely above and beyond. But in the popular parlance, that’s how they roll. They’re all about treating you like family and friends.
There are teapots (china, clay or cast iron) for sale, teacups from formal to whimsical, tea strainers, aprons, soaps and beauty products with tea in them, just part of an every-changing array of tea-related things. You never know what you’ll find when you arrive. My splurge some months ago was an electric teapot that has a temperature setting so that I can prepare all my teas, green, oolong or black, at the recommended temperature (on the package). There are also plenty of tisanes, Hercule Poirot’s favorite, for those avoiding caffeine—“teas” that don’t contain tea or caffeine but are herbal or plant infusions. They even have a tea to help you sleep, but wait to drink it until you’re at home. And as an aside, the name of your favorite tea makes a great password whenever you need yet another passord!!
Even though this is a place to relax, you’ll be on the cutting edge. Pick up a Belly card or use the one you got from another participating establishment, http://www.bellycard.com/locations, and start earning rewards points with your first purchase. (Doesn’t surprise me that this came from the inventors of Groupon, http://www.openforum.com/articles/belly-up-to-the-digital-loyalty-card-groupons-founders-have.) And as a completely unrelated aside, if you’re a displace Nebraska Cornhusker fan, try a cup of Big Red Fred, named after those same Huskers and Sheila’s lovely husband, Fred, whom you might see in the store sometimes. Sheila’s also brought her considerable business acumen to bear on downtown Park Ridge, by starting the First Fridays program, http://firstfridayspr.com/, where participating merchants stay open late on the first Friday of the month and a themed event, such as the first one “A Night of Art and Artists” featured artists and their work in the various businesses. I was excited to meet the architect of the store and to be able to tell him how much I like the space he created there. But even with all the up-to-date technology, the activity and the copious, often-changing stock of tea and tea-related items, I never feel rushed. This is a place for retreat, a third place to meet, greet and talk.
But that first day, once my daughter and her friend had taken one table, there were no seats left except at a table with a woman already seated. As I looked at the teas, I fell into conversation with her, she invited me to sit with her and we spent a lovely couple of hours getting to know each other. We’ve seen each other there (by choice) since. But even if you go in alone, Sheila, the owner and Certified Tea Specialist, Ryne, the tea guy, blog writer (http://www.tealula.com/blog) and more, or any of the other knowledgeable and friendly workers, will chat with you and make you welcome…or let you sit in peace if you desire. And just so I don’t forget, you can order your tea online if you’re not able to get to TeaLula in person.
There are other places to buy tea that are closer to me. To get to TeaLula, near O’Hare Airport, from Naperville takes a good half hour if the traffic isn’t bad. I can get wi-fi by stopping at Caribou or Starbucks, but tea is more of a sideshow there, although Caribou has become much more tea-friendly. There are two other tea places in Naperville that sell excellent tea and are staffed by knowledgeable, friendly people. But they aren’t sit-down establishments. Although I frequently them both and like them immensely, they’re not like coming home or visiting an old friend, where you can sit, relax, chat (or not) and have a cuppa. They aren’t third places. That takes a special place, a tea-rrific one. Thanks, Sheila, for making TeaLula that special third place!