Rita Moisson was born and raised in Salem, Mass. She lived in Boston during adulthood and later moved to Wyandotte, to be closer to her son and daughter-in-law. The Moissons owned a little cafe in the downriver city and Rita would offer to read customers' tea leaves once they'd finished their meals. It wasn't long before people were coming in to get their fortunes told, rather than eat a sandwich.
In order to accommodate a new clientele, the family opened a space upstairs and, in honor of Rita's previous residence, anointed it the Boston Tea Room.
According to the shop's current proprietess Heatherleigh Navarre (Rita's great niece), that was sometime around 1980, although the oldest document they have from the store is a photograph with "1982" penned on the back.
The Boston Tea Room continued to flourish in Wyandotte — a community with a large Polish Catholic population — and made a couple moves around town. It spent a few years occupying a space in the Wyandotte movie theater, then moved across the street before it was demolished.
The store was a constant presence in the city, donating money to church festivals and acting as a mainstay in the city's yearly street art festival. But, in 2015, the 30-some-year-old location closed its doors.
Over the years the store has had other locations in Greektown and Windsor, and in late 2008 Navarre had opened an outlet in Ferndale.
Navarre says many of the shop's clients had been asking for a location farther north and when one of the tea room's suppliers, a magic candle maker, told them a space was available, they decided to make the leap despite the ongoing economic upheaval caused by the housing market crash.
Navarre says it was a difficult decision to close the Wyandotte location, but one that made sense for the family. Their Ferndale space is much larger and they're able to carry a wider variety of spiritual products — one of the store's main objectives.
"We really want everyone who comes into our shop no matter what age, religion, or cultural background, we want everyone to find something that resonates with them," Navarre says. "We try to be ethical and responsible in that way — if you're exploring a spiritual path, we want to provide products to support your journey."
To some, occult practices and Christian sensibilities are mutually exclusive, but Navarre has found that the two intersect more than one might think. In fact, she says most of the Wyandotte store's clientele were "little old church ladies."
"Officially, divination and fortune telling are not accepted by the Catholic church, but the church has a very mystical-friendly policy. We're taught to believe in the miracles in the lives of the saints," Navarre says. "[The shop has] stuff about the saints as well. There is lots of crossover between the saints and magic."
In Ferndale, things are a little different. The city is known for being a progressive community and she says most people accept tarot card readings and divination as mainstream concepts. Plus, the store is not exactly spooky, regardless of the fact that they deal in telling fortunes.
In addition to selling tarot cards, crystals, magic candles, trinkets, and jewelry, the shop is also home to a cast of card readers, fortune-tellers, and mediums. They offer in-house readings as well as off-site services. Navarre jokes that the month of October used to be referred to as "Psychic Christmas" due to the number of off-site fortune teller requests.
Now, though, she says the month is usually jam-packed with speaking engagements. When we spoke with her, she'd just returned from a trip to Spain where she had visited Zugarramurdi, the site of the caves associated with the Basque witch trials. She was invited to speak about the historic Salem witch trials, a period between 1692 and 1693 when 19 people were hung and one man was crushed to death after being accused of witchcraft.
While the time of witch hangings and burnings has long since passed, Navarre says our current times are equally as scary — and she wants the Boston Tea Room to be a place that's safe for everyone during the seemingly never-ending turmoil.
"There are 27 of us who work at the shop and we're all concerned about the state of our current society and we've been collectively working to create a safe space for all of our clients and all of our community," she says. "We work to provide social justice, feminist, inclusive, and intersectional products because a lot of people feel powerless right now. We have a compelling agenda to help people regain their power."