Upton Tea Imports was founded in 1989. It started as a one-man company, operating from a spare room of my house in Upton, Massachusetts. Within two years, tea chests occupied virtually every room of the house. In the spring of 1992, the company relocated to a small building in Upton Center and hired its first employee. It was soon obvious that the growth of the company would strain the capabilities of the small shop in Upton Center. Another relocation would be essential.
By 1995, the volume of tea being imported and the number of packages being shipped daily required a loading dock and warehouse facilities. Luck would have it that neighboring Hopkinton's "industrial park," South Street, had a number of vacancies well-suited to our requirements at the time. We selected 231 South Street as our new home. Turnover among abutting tenants allowed us to append additional space and grow from 4,000 square feet to 11,000 square feet over the next six years, without moving.
As we contemplated adding a fourth adjacent unit to our operation, we came to realize that our segmented expansion strategy imposed some serious inefficiencies. It was time to find a larger building with open production spaces more suited to packing and shipping tea.
Our active search for new space lead nowhere. We nearly resigned ourselves to staying at 231 South Street when we received a cold call from a real estate broker with a fascinating proposal. An old, dilapidated mill building was available at 34 Hayden Rowe Street in Hopkinton, offering 30,000 square feet of combined warehouse, production, and office space. The building had been neglected for decades. The roof leaked, the exterior was in terrible condition, and much of the interior was destroyed. Yet there was something about the building that captured my interest. If one looked beyond the obvious flaws, one saw a layout that seemed ideal for packing and shipping tea. It would certainly take a lot of work, but a little imagination made it clear that the final result would be an ideal location for Upton Tea Imports. Further meetings with the new owners of the building, Fred and Kathy Grant, convinced me that a restoration project, under their capable management, could offer us a very suitable home for decades to come.
After over a year of zoning board meetings and extensive renovations, we are now operating from the old mill at 34-A Hayden Rowe Street. The building was last fully utilized as a packaging operation by General Packets Corporation from the late 1950's until 1968. General Packets produced individual serving packets of sugar, salt, pepper, and other food items. Prior to that, the Seaman and Cobb Thread Mill occupied the space for 33 years, the longest time a single company has occupied the building.
Rose Leveille, who still resides on Hayden Rowe Street, provided us with extensive information about the history of the old building, going back to its original use as a shoe factory. Mrs. Leveille (then Rose Martin) worked for Seaman and Cobb after school in 1944. She still has her first pay envelope, dated 3/28/44. In exchange for 23.25 hours of work, she earned $9.30. After the 1% Federal Old Age Tax, her take-home pay was $9.21. The work was hard and management was strict.
Since 1968, sections of the building have been used for ceramics manufacturing, circuit board manufacturing, lock repair, a video store, and even a preschool! Much of this was done from a small basement section of the building while the majority of the building was unoccupied. After over a year of zoning board meetings and extensive renovations, we are now operating from 34-A Hayden Rowe Street, the two main floors of the building. Once again, the old mill will be fully utilized.
We are indebted to the Grants for having the patience and stamina to restore the building after over 30 years of decline. The character of the building has been preserved. Old wood beams and floors of 3" spruce planks overlaid with 3" birch planks attest to the building's original quality.
Zoning regulations prevent us from selling retail from our new site. However, we we will be able to offer our customers continuing good service and excellent tea by mail for decades to come. We intend to reside at 34-A Hayden Rowe Street for at least ten years. Perhaps we'll break the 33-year occupancy record of Rose Leveille's former employer, Seaman and Cobb.
"Upton Tea Imports was founded in 1989 with the objective of providing the North American tea drinker with
the finest teas available. We purchase teas from reputable brokers and estates worldwide, dealing only with
sources who are capable of providing top quality teas. We sell directly to the consumer, thus ensuring the
freshest product and fairest pricing."