It was the tea room that originally opened the doors for the Richardsons into the wider world of tea that has now become their bread and butter.
When the couple bought the historic Elmwood Inn in 1990, they opened it as a bed and breakfast that featured an afternoon tea as one of it's attractions. At that point, the Richardsons were little more than fans of the beverage and its dainty trappings.
"We just liked it," Shelley Richardson said. "I was attracted to the custom of sitting down in the afternoon and calming yourself, getting away from the busy-ness of life. This house was a good place to do it."
Other tea people agreed and flocked to the Inn. By 1995, the tea room had become such a hit and the Richardsons had become so immersed in tea culture that the bed and breakfast part of the business had become a distraction and was put to sleep.
Now, the same fate has befallen the tea room. Though the Richardsons consider themselves "students of tea," they are recognized around the world as aficionados. Bruce travels the globe speaking about the beverage and visiting tea-growing regions to select varieties that are blended into brews sold under the Elmwood Inn Fine Teas brand to tea rooms and gift shops around the world.
Three more books and a calendar are in the hopper
The couple has also produced five tea books so far. Three more and a calendar are currently in the hopper at Benjamin Press, the printing subsidiary named after the couple's son, who attends Lindsey Wilson College.
All of this has left little time for the Richardsons to supply the personal touch that the afternoon teas at the Inn thrived on. Either Bruce or Shelley, and oftentimes both, was present ant nearly every tea served over the past 14 years.
"We've always been here," Bruce Richardson said. "People come from across the country and they're holding a book or a magazine article in their hand and they want to meet you."
Getting to know the Richardsons has been part of what made Elmwood's teas so special, said Cathryn Cornett, a retired doctor from Liberty who has attended nearly one tea a month with friends since the Inn started serving them.
"Knowing them has enriched my life. We love hearing about Bruce's travels and watching their son grow up," Cornett said. "I'm so sad about the tea room closing. It just cannot be duplicated. The food is delicious. All the art work, the atmosphere. Everything about it is charming. We liked to look our best. We put on our Sunday clothes. There is just nothing like it."
When Cornett attended her first tea at the Inn, the cost for the four-course serving was $5.75. Now it's up to $21. Reservations for this month's last teas - with seatings at 1 p.m. and 3 p.m. on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays - quickly filled up. Cornett is booked for two. There are enough people on waiting lists to fill up another month, but the Richardsons say they have to draw the line somewhere.
"It's very difficult," said Bruce Richardson, a former minister. "It's almost like leaving a congregation behind. These people came religiously to these teas. But the customers are excited that Elmwood Inn Fine Teas is moving out in to the world and doing what it is supposed to do."