Small business owner finds inspiration in Spain

As Shane Barela sits at the desk at the front of The Scented Leaf, he cannot help but think about the future.

In just a few weeks, Barela will move from his small store at the end of University Boulevard into a new, bigger shop down the street. While the business will morph from just a retail store into a tea lounge, the man behind it all will stay the same. And while a dream is about to be realized, Barela cannot help but think of how it started.

Shane Barela was born in Santa Fe, N.M., and lived there along with five siblings for the beginning stages of his life. At the age of three, Barela’s parents divorced, but it did not change the environment he grew up in. Barela was able to see both his parents and spend time with them, and described his family life as good and loving. From his parents, Barela was able to learn qualities that would be useful to him later on life.

“I think my mom taught me how to be sensitive and caring for people and be very social,” said Barela. “And I think my dad taught me my work ethic and just how to stay on path and work through things.”

When Barela was 10 years old, he and his family moved to Tucson, Ariz., where, with the exception of one year, he has lived since. After high school, Barela attended Mesa Community College in Phoenix and Pima Community College for one year each. He then spent the next two years earning a business degree in marketing at the University of Arizona.

After college, Barela joined his father in the real estate business, buying and selling houses in Tucson. Despite being successful with real estate, his heart was always in owning his own business.

“I always kind of had that entrepreneurship bug,” said Barela. “I used to always get into business as a kid. I used to always have the lemonade stands. I used to have little bake sales. I got into selling fireworks to my friends when I was in junior high.”

Five years ago, Barela purchased a perfume store located in the Tanque Verde Swap Meet. After seven years in real estate, Barela was finally a business owner.

Barela’s initial store was successful and he decided to open up a second location in Phoneix. However after finding the commute difficult, he closed it down a mere four months later.

“It was alright, but it didn’t make sense for the long haul,” said Barela. “However, it allowed me learn to a different area, a different demographic and to see where this business could take me.”

After returning to concentrate on his original store, an opportunity arose that Barela could not refuse. Around two and half years ago, Barela purchased a small storefront on University Boulevard. He opened a second business a short time later, selling strictly perfumes.

However, the move did not go as smooth as planned. The perfume store did not sell as much as Barela had hoped, forcing him to change the store’s inventory. He gained a little popularity from selling oils and oil burners, but it was apparent that something was missing.

However, it was not until Barela and his wife, Adrienne, took their honeymoon to Granada, Spain, that he was able to determine what that missing piece was.

“We were walking down a major street back to our hotel, and in a kind of a spur of the moment thing, I decided to go into this neighborhood and take a different route,” Barela said. “We went down that street and ran into a little shop using the wall of the cathedral to showcase crates of herbs. We walked over there cause the smell was amazing and when we asked the owner of the business what it was, he said, ‘It was tea’.”

After talking with the owner about his business, a light bulb went off in their heads, and the Barelas made a decision that would drastically change their business. They decided to add tea to their little store on University Boulevard, styling it based off the shop in Granada.

“We started getting our team of importers and exporters and whoever could help us with blending to just get familiar with the industry,” Barela said. “When we started getting our crew together, we decided that we had a pretty good staff that knew a lot about tea.”

Just two years removed from introducing tea to his store, Barela has made a name for himself within the Tucson community. As Barela puts the finishing touches on his move, he already has hopes for what it will become. And as his track record shows, he has a history of attaining goals he sets out for himself.

“We want to have multiple locations because we feel like we have a unique idea,” said Barela. “We want to show our ideas to people, so they can get into it too.”

Note: This assignment was completed in my Journalism 306: Advanced Reporting class.

Small town sees negative effects from lack of snow

As I sit on the balcony of the Main Lodge, I notice the typical winter views of the popular Northern California ski resort. The sun is shining on a mid-40 degree March day, the lift attendants are scanning visitors before they ascend the lifts up the mountain, and Wooly, the resort’s mascot, is entertaining kids on the bunny slopes.

However, something is missing from this mountain fantasy: the snow.

According to statistics posted on its website, Mammoth Mountain has only received 153 inches of snow to date, their lowest level since 1989-1990. In comparison, last winter they received 668.5 inches of snow. For a town like Mammoth Lakes, whose economy is based solely on tourism, lack of snow hurts the town’s economy.

“I’ve been living in Mammoth for 31 years and I’ve never seen a winter as bad as this one,” said Carolyn Schwind, who works for Central Reservations of Mammoth.

Central Reservations of Mammoth is a real estate company in town that is in charge of rental sales, property management and nightly rentals. According to Schwind, business is down 40 percent since its peak in 2006. Total revenue for the company is also at one of their lowest amounts ever.

“In years like these, there is nothing you can do except for save your money,” Schwind said.

The main attraction in Mammoth is a ski resort, located to the west of the city. It is easily the largest employer in a city of 8,234 full-time residents. However, the resort is struggling as well.

Last week, Mammoth Mountain Ski Area fired 75 of its 359 full-time employees, roughly 21 percent of their workers. Employees fired included those in advertising, sales and information technology. In addition, the ski area’s chief executive officer, Rusty Gregory, took a 15 percent pay cut, while all employees took a 10 percent pay cut.

“It’s sad to see how this town is really suffering,” Schwind said.

Toni Jacalone, who is a manager at Mammoth Outdoor Sports, has been seeing similar drops in business. The small store is one of the main ski and snowboard rentals in town and has been around for more than 30 years.

“We notice as locals that a lot of people are laid off because the business can’t pay for them,” Jacalone said. “It’s one of the worst situations I’ve ever seen.”

Originally from Ventura County, Calif., Jacalone moved to Mammoth Lakes three years ago. As manager, Jacalone is in charge of shipping and receiving for the small store on Old Mammoth Road. As a result in the drop in business, she has had to reevaluate the store’s business plan, making tough decisions about what inventory to keep and to cut.

Next year, Mammoth Outdoor Sports plans to buy fewer products and is attempting to survive the next ski season using inventory purchased this season.

“In years like these, the only thing you can really do is hope it gets better next season,” Jacalone said.

Note: This assignment was completed in my Journalism 306: Advanced Reporting class.

Local tea store plans move, expansion

The Scented Leaf, a popular tea and perfume shop on University Boulevard, is expanding into a new location down the street.

The owner of The Scented Leaf, Shane Barela, signed a lease last Thursday to move the business into the unit vacated by the Red Velvet Cupcakery, which closed last November. Barela said the new place does not require a lot of work and is scheduled to open in late February.

“We saw a great opportunity to move,” Barela said. “It’s a better space.”

According to Barela, the initial plan is to convert the tiny retail shop into a cafe and tea bar, with the hope of obtaining a liquor license. The current location is not ideal for a tea bar, as it is situated between a Starbucks coffee shop and The Auld Dubliner bar. Barela also plans to change the name of the store from The Scented Leaf to Scented Leaf Tea House and Lounge.

The Scented Leaf has become known for selling bags of award-winning teas as well as oils and perfumes. While the new store will stop selling oils and perfumes, customers will be able to buy pots of the same tea that is currently available.

Converting from a retail store into a tea lounge will also allow Barela to create a menu of various food and drink items. The menu is set to include pies, breads, croissants, pastries, creme brulee and chocolates. In addition to teas, the store will sell coffee and chocolate drinks. Also new to the business will be special weekly events, such as Fondue Fridays.

Lynette Leroux, an employee at The Scented Leaf, believes that this is a perfect way to boost business. “We love talking to people about tea and converting them into tea drinkers,” Leroux said. “We’re really excited.”

Barela also hopes to appeal students from the adjacent University of Arizona campus. “When I started selling teas, that’s when the students started coming in,” Barela said. “Perfume never did that for me.”

The tea lounge will offer free Wi-Fi to all customers, allowing students to come by after class and complete homework. Barela also hopes that the store turns into a popular date location, while also providing a healthy alternative to soda and other high-sugar drinks. “Kids need something to balance out soda, so we’re going to try to help them out by giving them something good,” Barela said.

Barela believes that while his main customers are between the ages of 20 and 30, the store has yet to gain appeal amongst students. However, the initial response to expansion has been positive.

“I’m not that into tea, but I’ll try it at least once,” said Adam Bernstein, a senior majoring in biomedical engineering. “I would go there after a date to dinner or a movie.”

The current location will remain open until preparations for the new store are finished.

Note: This assignment was completed for my Journalism 306: Advanced Reporting class.