By Dana Hubanks
From floor to ceiling, the shop is full of seemingly whimsical things – a jar full of lavender flowers, antique teapots, handmade candles, and gemstones that sparkle in the light beaming through the windows.
On the far wall, I find dozens of jars filled with everything from hawthorne berries to peppermint leaves to chamomile, and to their left, a collection of hand-blended herbal teas with names like Evening Comfort and Cold Remedy.
But what may appear whimsical at first proves deeply important. Wonderland Teas, located in Bellingham, specializes in hand-blended herbal teas, bulk herbs, and culinary spices. Amidst the shelves are teas for everything from soothing anxiety to curing the common cold to achieving restful sleep. It’s like a pharmacy, where plants take the place of pill bottles.
The owner of Wonderland Teas is Linda Quintana. Businesswoman, herbalist, mother, wife – Linda is so many things. We sat together to talk about her experience running her own business for nearly forty years.
The daughter of homesteaders, Linda was “raised up in Alaska with no phone and no running water.” That’s where her relationship with herbalism began.
She remembers her parents drinking yarrow tea to stave off colds. “Rather than waiting until we got really sick, we just drank tea right away,” she remembers. “Getting sick and staying home wasn’t an option.”
When Linda was a teenager, her family relocated to Bellingham. Linda attended Sehome High School and after graduating, bought her first piece of property in Whatcom County. There, she began cultivating medicinal herbs.
Linda began looking for part-time work in Bellingham and came across Wonderland. Largely run by volunteers at the time, Linda started volunteering a few times a week.
When business fell on hard times and the owners decided to sell the shop, Linda saw an opportunity. “Without even thinking,” she tells me, “I said, ‘I’ll buy it. I’ll do it.’”
It was 1976 and Linda was 19. “My mom loaned me the money, and I just knew that’s what I was going to do.”
Shortly after buying, Linda enrolled in business classes at Whatcom Community College and started studying herbs more seriously. Her pursuit of herbal wisdom took her to California, Colorado and New Mexico. “I started going to every herb conference I had ever heard of,” she remembers.
“Business-wise, they told me I would fail,” Linda recalls. “They said, ‘It’s not gonna pay off,’ and I said, ‘Well, I’m just gonna do it.’”
Reflecting on what drove her to become an herbalist, Linda shares a memory about her father who told her, “You better do something you really love, because if you don’t, you won’t do it well.”
Linda feels fortunate for having found her calling so early. Even after nearly four decades, she’s still happy coming to work.
When I ask how she’s garnered so much success, Linda says cultivating relationships with entire families has helped her business thrive. She recalls working with many parents and children in her earlier days. Now, those children have become customers themselves.
Linda has worked avidly as an herbal educator to make these connections. At one point, she taught classes through Parks and Recreation to groups as large as forty. “It’s a good thing I love to teach!” she laughs.
Linda still teaches several classes each year. This summer, Linda will offer classes through the Bellingham Public Library on how to make herbal preparations like salves, oils and tinctures.
Linda’s rapport with the community comes largely by putting people before profits. “I don’t divide people monetarily,” she says. When people come into the store, Linda wants make sure they have what they need to heal.
“Some people come in and all they have is $5,” she tells me. And to her, that’s okay. “Treat people right at all levels, and it comes back to you. I really believe that.”
Despite her success and her base of faithful customers, Linda navigates certain difficulties. “Now we’re concerned about everyone ordering online,” she tells me. She hopes that despite growing availability online, people will continue to buy from her store.
When customers ask for advice, Linda is careful not to overstep her boundaries. “If it’s something serious,” she tells me, “I say, ‘You really need to see a doctor.’ I think people appreciate that.”
As our conversation winds down, I ask Linda what excites her most about her work. “Seeing the plants come up every year really gives me energy,” she tells me.
“Everything to me is a just a big circle,” she explains. “Gathering seeds, planting them, and seeing the plants come up in the spring… I see that as a circle.” She speaks about the circle of people, too: the children of the families she’s worked with who continue to come into the store. “Everything is cyclic,” she comments. “That’s rewarding to me.”
Over the years, Linda has considered moving the store elsewhere. She dreams of having a cottage-style shop with a garden out front–somewhere she could grow some of the herbs on-site.
But in the end, she thinks she’ll stay put. Being amidst the bustle of Railroad Avenue has allowed Wonderland to become a landmark. And if the last forty years are any indication, Wonderland will continue to be a bastion of health and community for years to come.
Wonderland Herbs Teas and Spices
1305 Railroad Avenue
Bellingham, WA 98225
Hours: Monday – Friday from 10:00 a.m. – 5:30 p.m.
Saturday from 10:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m.