Roots, a garden store that specializes in plants that require minimal water, sunlight and attention, opens today at 425 South Van Ness, between 15th and 16th streets.
“We cater to people who don’t have yards,” said owner Michelle Reed, who knows what city she’s living in. The store also reflects her philosophy of giving back to the community; some of the proceeds will go to nonprofit organizations.
Reed sells Tillandsias, a succulent cousin that is sometimes called the “air plant” because it doesn’t need soil; it has adapted to grow on other plants. But an office desktop will also do.
“These plants really thrive in neglect,” said Reed, picking one up. “Just dunk her once a week, and she’ll do fine!”
Reed sold advertising for radio stations for 24 years. “I worked at KMEL, KPLX and just recently I worked for Univision,” she said. “The industry had a lot of cuts, and I was one of them.”
“I thought I might go back into sales, and I thought, hell no, I’ll give myself a chance.” She set out to fashion a job from her obsession.
Reed fell in love with plants as a child. “My mom had a thing about African violets, and her friend owned a nursery.” Later, Reed became infatuated with orchids, and amassed a collection of 300.
Opening a store was slow going at first. Wary of banks and pessimistic about her prospects for a loan, Reed tapped into her savings and 401k — or, as she put it, “everything I had.”
“There comes a time in your life, it’s like, shit or get off the pot,” she said.
Reed labored to find a location. “Everyone wants restaurants, especially on the Valencia corridor. Not a lot of retail space was available,” she said.
Six months later, however, here she is.
For now, Reed’s also selling orchids and bonsai, and “I’ll get my carnivorous plants soon,” she said. Customers with little more than a barren windowsill can buy seed kits to grow their own tomatoes, strawberries, basil or cilantro.
To Reed, nurturing a plant “is like a meditation” — and a medication. A plant can brighten a dull space and add fragrance to the house, and some, like the peace lily, are especially good at removing toxins from the air, she said.
“It keeps giving back to you as much as you give to it.”
The tropical plants she carries, from South America, Southeast Asia and Brazil, prosper in humidity. That factor alone might deter most first-time plant buyers.
“But I’ll give you the best secret in the world,” Reed said as she held up an ice cube and then nestled it against the base of a potted orchid. Humidity problem solved.
She also sells terrariums, glass-enclosed ecosystems about the size of a bowling ball that regulate their own humidity.
Reed questions “what we’re doing to differentiate ourselves from the 1 percent. Are we giving back to people who don’t have as much?”
Through Roots, she hopes to do her part, donating 5 to 10 percent of sales each month to a rotating list of nonprofits.
Top on her list are Centro Latino, the Boys and Girls Club, the Mission Health Center and the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence. “These nonprofits do a lot for the immigrant population that lives here. Why not take care of that?” she said. “It makes me feel good.”
Reed started with a relationship with her own plants; from that sprouted a respect for nature and for other people. She hopes Roots will allow others to undergo the same evolution.
“Everyone wants to save the environment, but just save a plant first.”
Roots is open Tues. to Sat. from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m., and Sun. from noon to 5 p.m.