, the oldest continuously operating tea house in the country, is getting close to signing a new restaurant tenant.
Barbara Locke, president of the Wenham Village Improvement Society, which owns the tea house, said there are several potential restaurant operators who are “very, very interested” in leasing the space currently occupied by the Exchange at the Tea House.
Emma Roberts, who has operated the restaurant for the last five years, is leaving at the end of the month because the Exchange is not making a profit. She said she is returning full-time to her Stoneham catering business, Capers Catering.
“Everybody is really positive that there is a definite business opportunity here,” Locke said. “There has been a lot of interest.”
The tea house business leases are a major source of funds for the not-for-profit society. But Locke denied that the society is forcing Roberts to leave.
'Change is Difficult'
Finding a new tenant has been stressful, especially during the holidays, she said. “Change is difficult.”
, a women's clothing store, will continue to operate in the tea house. One of a chain of women's clothing stores, based out of Marblehead, Irresistibles has been leasing the space in the tea house for six years.
“We are not going anywhere,” said Anne Tucker with Irresistibles.
The tea house has been very busy for the last few months, Locke said. Business is definitely picking up, she said.
With a new restaurant tenant, the gift shop in the tea house is likely to change. Locke said she believes that area needs something different such as showcasing products of more local vendors.
Several of the prospective tenants have had a different vision for that part of the tea house, she said.
Society Has Helped Wenham since 1893
The Wenham Village Improvement Society was founded in 1893 by a group of ambitious women who wanted to improve the conditions of the town. Like similar improvement societies around New England, it did a number of beautification projects; planting trees, installing street lights and encouraging residents to pick up their trash.
The women of the society decided in 1916 to build the tea house as a place for the community members to gather and for local women to sell their baked and canned goods, a precursor to the restaurant.
The society, which owns the six acres the tea house, the playground and three tennis courts are on, continues to invest in the Wenham community.
The tea house, Locke said, “is a jewel in the center of our town.”
The society gives out scholarships to college-bound Wenham students. Locke estimated that the society had given more than $500,000 in scholarships over the years.
It also funds an eight-week summer program for 200 Wenham children at the playground and hires 50 teenagers as camp counselors, making it one of the largest employers of teenagers in town.
In recent years, the society has stayed true to its mission, she said, raising funds for the Cherry Street bike path, helping the town buy the lot where the fire station is and mending the fence around the Civil War Monument. It spent $10,000 repaving the tennis courts, making them probably the best public courts in town, she said.