By Jill Keppeler
The Tonawanda News
Tonawanda News — For about three years in a small spot of Main Street in the City of Tonawanda, a tiny tea shop with the simple name of “Simply Sue’s” brought in customers and friends with its food, activities, music and, of course, tea.
Now, shop owner Sue Potter has brought stories from the shop’s existence — and tales from her own personal journey — to print with “A Girl Like Me,” published by Balboa Press recently.
“When I had my shop, I would write stories and put them on the tables for people to read. I took those stories and wrote around them for the book,” Potter said during a recent interview at her apartment, surrounded by boxes of books and pieces of her art, over (of course) a cup of tea. “My main objective in this is to share what I’ve been given: Trust, faith, the ability to step out of my comfort zone.”
Her life has been a series of steps in that direction, a process reflected in the book’s three sections, starting with “frazzled” family life through her discovery of Al-Anon, the effects of the disease of alcoholism on her family, work experience and issues therein. Her gratitude to Al-Anon — and her thanks to her “friends with no last names” — is a thread throughout the book.
Some of the stories are very personal, and Potter admitted that she’s a little nervous about sharing them. But she hopes it will help others find hope for themselves.
“It’s got it all — the good, the bad and the ugly,” she said. “It’s been quite a journey from there to here.”
Her tea shop got its start after she left her job of 10 years at a medical records business, wanting something more.
With many childhood memories of Main Street, she started watching some of the storefronts for rent in the area ... and dreaming.
“I started to think about what would I like to do if I could do anything I wanted,” she said. “I thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be nice to have a place where I could sit and paint all day?’ Maybe I could serve some tea. I wanted to have a place with a lot of tea — and two kinds of coffee.”
The lease was signed on Potter’s birthday, and Simply Sue’s Tea Shop opened for business in July 2007 at 44 Main St. The next section of “A Girl Like Me” showcases her experiences as its owner, as well as snippets and snapshots of the shop’s visitors and clients over the next three years, from Dorothy, one of the first passers-by to stick her head in the door before it even opened, to a young girl named Amelia who often came in with her mother.
Others include those who came in to make use of the site’s food pantry — which she dubbed “The Thirty Dollars Too Much Room” after the time she made just a little too much to qualify for food stamps during a time of need— to the many residents of the Tonawanda Towers who dropped by for tea and conversation. There, too, are those she was able to tell about Al-Anon.
“The people I met — I just love them,” she said. “I still have contact with a lot of them.”
After about three years of food and music and art and many stories, Simply Sue’s closed in 2010, after Potter’s arthritis become worse.
For the first time in years, she found herself without something to do. She took a year off, read and wrote and spent time at the beach, then — remembering her fondness for the women from the Towers who frequented the tea shop — began serving as a companion for seniors, something she still does now on a limited basis. In addition, she works part time at the YWCA of the Tonawandas. Part three of the book deals with this period of her life, right up to 2013.
Michele — one of Potter’s “friends with no last names” whom she met years ago during Al-Anon meetings — said she believes the book’s simple stories show the growth Potter has reached for over the years.
“I think that what the book really is ... all these little vignettes ... is seeing life through spiritual eyes,” Michele said. “She’s had a huge transformation from the person she was to the person she is today.
“It think the book exemplifies that, with each little story she tells, how she tries to see things through those eyes. It’s not always the easiest thing, but she’s done remarkably well.”
Potter has also written a second book for her grandchildren, although it hasn’t been published yet, and is at work on another. In the meanwhile, she’s promoting “A Girl Like Me” with presentations to community groups and book signings, such as one that will take from 1 to 6 p.m. Saturday at TNT Pizza, 48 Main St., City of Tonawanda. The book is also available at amazon.com, barnesandnoble.com and bookstore.balboapress.com.
It’s all part of continuing the spirit of Simply’s Sue’s, Potter said, and knowing that “A Girl Like Me” can move past the challenges to live the life she wants to live.
“What I hope people take away is that I’m carry a message of stepping beyond the limits imposed on you and knowing God has your back,” she said. “There’s always more. There’s always hope.”