Guest Post by Sarah Eccleston, James Madison University
Tucked in a small nook in the heart of downtown Harrisonburg, almost unnoticeable to passersby lay the Downtown Rabbit Hole, a small tea shop decked out in Alice in Wonderland decor from floor to ceiling. Inside a smiling face greeted guests and presented them with a selection of teas for them to smell.
In the United States, 73.9 percent of millennials, the largest tea audience, drink coffee everyday, according to statista. However, only 34 percent drink tea daily, according to StudyFinds. Although the odds were against her, Doe Polanz opened the Downtown Rabbit Hole, a pop-up Alice in Wonderland inspired tea shop in downtown Harrisonburg at the end of September 2022 and it was open until the end of January.
Nearly two years before opening her storefront she came to the SV SBDC seeking help on how to start her business. Polanz said that Allison Dugan stood by her throughout this process and understood that Polanz was set in her goal to open a tea only shop.
Many people tried to convince Polanz that just tea wouldn’t sell and the only way her business model would succeed would be if she included coffee in the menu, but Polanz said that this was not her vision.
Throughout the process Polanz was very grateful that everything from Dugan was merely a suggestion, and she said that Dugan really understood her unique personality when it came to her business.
Polanz worked on the idea for her store for about two years before finally opening the pop-up. In 2019, Dugan helped Polanz join the LAUNCH program, a local initiative which paired future business owners with a mentor who owned a successful business. Polanz’s mentor was Kirsten Moore, owner of Magpie Diner.
She did the LAUNCH program online, and in the meantime she was in France looking for a French tea distributor which could have their American debut at her shop. She finally settled on Maison Bourgeon, a tea distributor in Nice, France.
She also took seminars from the SV SBDC, and got many suggestions from Allison Dugan, director of SV SBDC. She liked working with the SV SBDC because of the “the human aspect,” one of the most important values to her.
“Without the human aspect you wouldn’t have anything,” said Polanz.
While working on creating her business plan, Polanz wrote down her core values, including — creativity, community, connectivity and hospitality. She realized that all her values had “tea” in them so it was all about tea but it wasn’t just tea, it was the humanity that mattered most to her.
Polanz wanted her shop to be a place where anyone could come and feel at home. She described it as a salon de thé, literally meaning ‘tea shop’ in French but to Polanz it means it’s an extension of herself, like she is sharing a part of her living room with her customers.
Speaking of the human connections she gained, Dugan brought a vast network with her and suggested that Polanz join JMU Women in Business. The group connected her with many local business owners in the community such as PrePOPsterous Gourmet Popcorn & Sodas, a popcorn business in Bridgewater, Virginia.
“Without them I would have done nothing,” Polanz said about her overall experience with the SV SBDC.
Polanz is still doing private events, but just like Alice, she is open to the unknown, and just like the Mad Hatter said, it’s always tea time.
Keeping Up with The Downtown Rabbit Hole
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