When I arrived at Sir Renna Tea in downtown Lincoln, Eileen Mullins, the owner came outside and surprised me with a drink as we settled on the benches near the front door. It was a juice drink with aloe vera and honey. “There are chunks of aloe in it,” she warned. It was delicious and refreshing in the gathering heat of the day.
“If someone comes in with an upset stomach and drinks one of these, they usually feel better,” said Eileen. Aloe is great for digestive issues, as well as skin. In fact it’s good first aid to have an aloe plant at home in case of burns, whether caused by the sun or the stove. Just break off a leaf, peel out the pulp and apply to skin. It has a cooling and healing effect.
And if you visit the store, located at 113 N Kickapoo St, you’ll see a collection of these succulent plants in Eileen’s front window, which gets plenty of southeast sun. She also grew lettuce in the window this summer. “It was delicious,” she said. “We grew tomatoes, too. And since there were no bees, we used a brush to pollinate them ourselves.”
Eileen is now planning to create a garden and green house in back of the store next summer—just one more of many steps that she has taken in making this her home. It was about five years ago when Eileen embarked on her search for a location in central Illinois—one that would be her home, as well as a business.
She was on a new adventure after five years of 24/7 care for her ailing mother who died of Alzheimer’s. “Alzheimer’s is wicked, draining, and mentally exhausting,” said Eileen. “I had nothing left to give the world.”
Eileen bought a van with the intent to travel, and possibly park herself at a riverside for awhile. Yet her twin sister, Kathy, encouraged her otherwise. “She’s always been my Jiminy Cricket,” said Eileen. “She knows what’s best for me and said that instead, I needed to find a stable place to be and something to do to decompress.”
At the time, Eileen was living near St Louis. With a son in St Louis and a daughter in Chicago, she wanted to live in between the two. “It was either northern Missouri or central Illinois,” said Eileen. When nothing came up in Missouri, she headed for Illinois.
“I got a hotel room in Bloomington and opened the phone book for a realtor.” She refers to her real estate agent as a saint. “At first he told me about this building, but it sounded too big. He searched around and worked really hard to find something else.”
While exploring several dead ends, the Kickapoo Street building kept popping up. So, with flashlight in hand—since there was no electricity—Eileen finally took a look. She fell in love with the bar on the ground floor and marveled at its beautiful craftsmanship. She realized that this was the place.
The first year was spent cleaning and doing initial fixes. “It had been empty for a very long time and was in poor shape,” said…