Urban sociologist Ray Oldenburg has written at length about the importance of having informal meeting places in order to build the social fabric of a community.
These "third places," as he coined them, are the bars, restaurants, parks and coffee shops we commonly frequent that offer a chance to connect and bond with the people around us outside of the home and office.
Whether she's familiar with Oldenburg's theory or not, Yulia Gladysheva is putting it to good practice at her village shop, called the Whistler Tea House, which opened in its prime Marketplace locale in January.
Beyond offering a selection of 40 natural loose leaf teas, artisanal chocolates, and her own home recipe of cold teas, Gladysheva wants her store to be a place where locals can come together, shoot the breeze, and have a bit of fun.
And as a Russian transplant and nomad at heart, Gladysheva knows full well how important it is to feel a sense of belonging even when you're miles away from home.
"From the beginning, the idea was to create a homey and local place," she said. "And we did it. It is really like a home where everyone is as a dear guest and you can really feel that. It makes us happy."
From the get-go, Gladysheva wanted to offer her space to anyone in the community who needed it. She opens the store every Wednesday for young moms and their children to read, sip specially-made iced teas, and get their photos taken (Gladysheva is also a professional portrait photographer).
"We love this time because of the happiness that you can see at the Tea House," she said. "The moms look gorgeous, they're always smiling... and they get to share their stories, their experiences."
The Tea House has also played host to reading time for kids in partnership with the library, as well as after-hours yoga sessions.
A true tea aficionado, Gladysheva said she first had the idea to open her own tea shop while living in Egypt with her husband and two kids.
"We lived in Egypt for five years and it wasn't possible to buy good tea there," she said. "During tea time with my husband we would dream about our own tea house, and then we forgot about it for a while. But suddenly, in Whistler, we thought, 'why not?' We can share our passion with others."
Now, Gladysheva gets to share that passion on a daily basis with a wide range of health-conscious customers.
"It's a yoga town here, so most people love healthy and natural food," she said. "With a lot of European people here, too, I think we'll find more customers. Also I see now that young people are coming to us more and more. They really love matcha, and that was a surprise to me."
The Whistler Tea House is located at 112-4368 Main Street. Check out www.facebook.com/whistlerteahouse for more information.
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