A family of New Mexico tea lovers plans to open its first shop in Colorado in the Main Avenue space previously occupied by Stuart’s of Durango.
Bailey Huffmon said about 50 percent of The Old Barrel Tea Co.’s revenue comes from the sale of loose-leaf teas and the remainder comes from the retailer’s offerings of essential oils, spices and sundry gift items such as scented candles.
Four Old Barrel Tea shops are in New Mexico, in Ruidoso, Cloudcroft, Mesilla and in Old Town in Albuquerque.
The group aims for high-traffic pedestrian tourist areas, and Durango fit the bill, said Huffmon, who owns the businesses along with her mother, Dana, and her two sister-in-laws, Paola Huffmon and Nenada Huffmon.
“My mom is a three-time cancer survivor,” Bailey Huffmon said. “She always told us about the health benefits of tea. Besides loving tea, we really emphasize the healthful benefits and preventative lifestyle that tea supports.”
Besides Main Avenue’s busy pedestrian shopping traffic and a location close to the Strater Hotel, Bailey Huffmon said the cross-state exchange of friends and family familiar with Durango attracted the Huffmons to town.
In addition to a Durango Old Barrel Tea Co., she said the family plans to open a shop in the Denver area, where a hunt for the proper retail space is underway. Some shops operate under the name The Old Barrel Tea & Spice Co. But the Durango shop will keep to the Old Barrel Tea Co. moniker.
She expects both the Durango and the Denver Old Barrel Tea Co. shops will open sometime in April.
Shop watchers on Main Avenue can expect to see workers remodeling the 2,875-square-foot space this month, she said.
The Old Barrel Tea Co. typically employs six to 10 workers in each shop, with a mix of part- and full-time workers, said Bailey Huffmon.
Rent on Main Avenue, she said, is more expensive than what the Huffmons are used to paying in New Mexico, but Durango’s business community, including real estate agents and contractors, have worked with the Huffmons to fit the old Sturart’s space to their needs.
She recalled being shown spaces in Durango going for $6,000 or $7,000 a month, but she said the high price on Main Avenue is part of the price for opening “in a place with a cool vibe.”
The vibe proved strong for Stuart’s good run.
Stuart’s, with its decades-old neon sign and enduring presence, had been a Main Avenue landmark dating to Durango’s early days.
The location has held a clothing store since soon after the turn of the 20th century, when Nate Stein brought Stein Mercantile of Rico to Durango.
Stuart Johnson purchased the store from Bob Pennington in 1959. It was previously called Pennington’s.
When Dennis Johnson purchased his father’s clothing store in 1978, he decided to keep the name: Stuart’s of Durango.
“It just seemed kind of silly to change the name. By then, it had acquired a reputation of its own,” Johnson told The Durango Herald in July 2009, when Stuart’s, at 713 Main Ave., celebrated its 50th anniversary since Stuart Johnson purchased the store.
In July 2016, after nearly 60 years selling high-end men’s apparel, Dennis Johnson, who owns the property, decided to close Stuart’s and place the building for lease and enjoy retirement with his wife, Anna.
According to survey books at the Animas Museum, the building was built in or around 1885 and was one of the earliest permanent brick structures on Main Avenue. The first floor was originally a saloon, and the second floor was a boarding house.
Duane Smith, a local historian, said that in the late 1800s, the Stuart’s building shared a block with a grocery store, office space, an undertaker and an assay office – facilities to identify and assess minerals brought in by local miners. The building’s original brick facade was dramatically changed in the 1930s with stucco and glazed tile.