Growing Up not Going Down
If you’re like me, you may have assumed that the cute little store, in the strip of old shops above Batemen Island, that was a pipe shop, is still functioning as one. I used to drive by its tie-dye signs and blacked out windows, and so when the signs changed to a bright, happy green, about growing plants, I made an assumption that it was still the same shop. Boy, was I wrong. And I’m hoping that anyone else making the same assumption sees this and checks out the shop under that sign. Once I stepped into Anything Grows LLC, I could have spent hours in there. I even went back the next day to buy some top-grade soil for my mom’s plants. And they are going to have to expect to see me a lot more. Even if I don’t need anything, the shop has something I didn’t know I needed. Focusing on a specialty in organic and hydroponics, this store is a gardener’s paradise. From a 45-year-old jade plant residing toward the back, under a grow light, to a huge machine making activated tea for plants, and they used to have a hydroponic cactus above their fish tank.
As if that isn’t enough to draw you in, the owners are not just into plant growth but also into community growth. Bobbi Jo makes the space available to people for events, classes, and markets, at no charge.
She wants the space to feel like everyone’s, and it is. They have chair yoga,
and weather permitting, they open their outdoor space for markets, farmers, you name it.
They carry local products, they hang local artists’ work in the back, and they have products from local farms. They are currently selling lavender plants from Sunkissed Lavender Farm in West Richland, and Tommy’s Produce stand will be there Sundays 10-4. Bobbi Jo, and her staff, were just as exciting to me as the idea of new gardening supplies. Lucky for me the four main people who operate the shop were all present and working.
Bobbi Jo: “Our sales are good, right now. This last month I have been down here every day. Normally, I don’t have to do that. It’s great, but there is a little bit of anxiety and a little bit of guilt.”
This is why, when she first contacted me, she didn’t think I should add their store to The Shutdown Project because they are not suffering from being closed during covid. Now, if you’re concerned about visiting the store during covid, forget it. Sanitation is the only word on this crews’ minds. They have had a glove station before the shutdown even happened, and are limiting customers, and wiping the store down, in between. I saw them spray isopropyl on their gloves more than four times while I was there. They even have Sunkissed Lavender Farm’s essential oils sanitizer refills on the affordable side. (Side note… they have huge containers of isopropyl for sale, until they run out.) Not only do I now want to work at Anything Grows, I want to hang out with Bobbi Jo and the rest of the Anything Grows team. The instant I arrived, Bobbi Jo came out to greet me and I knew right from there I was going to love this place. Quirky, but seriously down-to-earth, she and first employee, Amanda, will tell you how it is. They didn’t become the first woman-owned and operated store of their kind by not speaking their minds. Savvy, and on top of their game, these gals are not ever going to lose focus, yet I laughed with them and learned from them for the hour I visited the shop. The space became available, and they put money down before they even had a business or plan.
B: “Yeah, out of my savings.”
Amanda: “She and I had it up and running in less than 6 weeks. We completely refurbished the flooring, repainted, restocked and running.”
B: “We had no idea what we were getting into. I’m a notary, and I’ve been an officiant for almost 30 years. I still have no idea how I got into this. I genuinely go every day, ‘What am I doing?’”
*What made you decide to start the store?
B: “I thought it was really odd that there was only one grow store and that it was owned by someone in Oregon. It was kind of this monopoly. So, I just had this idea that, oh, we could do this. Now there are three stores like this in the Tri-Cities.”
“We knew we wanted a grow store, a hydroponic store, where mostly farmers would buy their supplies.”
*Has it been a pretty tough industry?
B: “In the hydro grow store trade, women were kind of frowned upon. We were the first woman-owned and operated store in the country.” A: “We had to prove we knew what we were doing.” B: “It was not a woman’s business.”
“The hydro industry had 50 stores of this type of business closed in Seattle area alone, over the last year, because the industry got so bad. Medical growers went away, and so many places have closed, and that’s why we always wanted to be unique, we wanted to support local farmers.”
Bobbi Jo attributes a lot of the success of her shop to her partner Jeff.
“Jeff doesn’t really have a lot to do with the store, except he’s a genius with the books. He keeps me on track. And that is how we’ve been able to do this. It really comes down to numbers, and if you have good bookkeeping you will succeed. So, he is a huge part of this business, but he does it from home.” From home, or from a shop, to a community member, success comes with hard work and support.
B: “You know how everyone throws out that phrase, support local, and American Express has Small Saturday, a lot of that’s been nonsense. Nobody really does it.”
So, for the first time, she feels people are finally getting it, and finally doing what so many use as a tag line.
B: “Small businesses need more than a once a year, shop small, day.”
B: “What is the Uptown going look like, what is the Parkway going to look like? Where is everyone going? You know the Fred Myer, Home Depot, Lowes nurseries, they are going to survive this. Not many others. I push support small. We do have commercial farms, but our customer base is off $20 sales.”
When covid first hit, Bobbi Jo was horrified for all her friends: from industries, from wedding venues, to restaurants.
*When the whole shutdown was starting what concerned you most?
“I started hearing about this was closing, and that was closing. I instantly thought of all my friends in the industry. I was in the restaurant industry. I opened my first when I was 23. I am friends with practically every small business in this town. I was shook-up about the people that could not open, and the next day, I felt guilty and I didn’t want to tell anyone (that she was open). I didn’t want to say a word.”
A lot of local small businesses shop at Anything Grows, be it wedding venues for their gardens, or customers growing their own food, plants, and medicine. And obviously a garden shop is essential during a time like this and every other day of the year.
Although this is their busy season, so they are typically busy, they have been flooded with new gardeners coming in to learn how to grow their own food and build their own food source. And the AG staff is not just all pro on grow, one of their own, Nick, is living it. Nick and his wife shoot for 2500 pounds of food from their garden a year.
N: “I do soil. I prefer the taste of soil and the way that it grows things. My wife and I do a big permaculture garden. It is about 25x25. With your own soil building, it is a lifestyle. It is almost an addiction for us." “From the Cactus Society to someone wanting to grow backyard tomatoes, to people wanting to grow pounds of their own medicine, growing your own food and resources really is a lifestyle and it’s one a lot of people plan for when they can afford space. Especially now, it seems like everybody wants to grow food and medicine. And I think it is a big wake up call for a lot of people around here. It isn’t hard to do. Tri-Cities is a great place to grow stuff. We have one of the best climates. The sun intensity and the climate…sunny days to rainy days. It is really good for growing. Growing sunny crops.”
*Do you have customers that come from outside the Tri-Cities?
N: “Oh Yeah. We get a lot of customers from Oregon. You’d be surprised. In the surrounding areas, we are one of the centrally located and hydroponic oriented stores. If you cross the border into Oregon, you would have to really look hard to find one. And I don’t think there is one between the Tri-Cities and Yakima. So, we get customers from Yakima. I’ve seen people from the Westside, Moses Lake, Ephrata. That whole area there, there is nothing. So, if they want to talk to someone who actually grows plants hydroponically, they are hard pressed to get questions answered.”
I also got to chat with store manager and all around power house, Kelli. I could tell from the second I heard her that she was an energy to be reckoned with and she doesn’t often get held back.
*What originally made you want to start in this industry?
Kelli: “I didn’t know I was going to fall in love with this industry.”
Being introduced to a grow shop owner who needed someone to run their shop that had no ties to the industry…
“So, that’s how I got involved in it, in fact, the first week was tough. I thought, this is crazy, there’s no way I’m going to be able to do this, they’re speaking a language I don’t even understand, with gardening. Then after the first couple weeks, I just fell in love with it, in love with gardening. And it brings back memories of being in the garden with grandparents that I didn’t even realize were amazing gardeners. It just was a fit.” “I’ve been in the retail side of a grow shop for about 6 years, and at Anything Grows for just under two years. It’s so much more than a retail job. I learn something new on a daily basis here. It continuously pushes you, it is continuously intriguing and challenging because you are finding something every day to learn about, and so it doesn’t get boring, it doesn’t get dull. You learn from the customers and the people who surround you. There are a million ways of doing things right in the gardening industry, not just one. You will never get to the top of knowledge; we will never peak at knowing everything, and that’s so fascinating.”
*Can you imagine this being a bigger thing in the Tri-Cities?
K: “Yes, especially with what we’re seeing with this big push of new gardeners. People are finding it’s important to grow their own medicine and food. There is a huge leap in the garden industry right now.”
*Do you think that will continue after the virus?
“I feel like it’s going to.
Once you get involved with this, it’s a lifestyle change.
It’s not just like a hobbyist. Once you’ve started into it, it’s continuous.”
And she’s not wrong. I remember the first time I saw a hydroponic garden I was at a friend’s house. I was in high school and it mesmerized me. After that I wanted to know everything about growing hydroponically. Sadly, my house and family didn’t have the space to accommodate my new found passion, but it goes to show that it is fascinating, and I think I found where most of my spending money is headed. *What’s the most common thing people use hydroponic for, aside from Cannabis? K: “Hydroponic tomatoes, greens, micro greens, all those work well through hydroponics. You see a lot of tower gardens. Everybody has their own way; everybody has their own ways of feeding. Anything that you want to grow in dirt is going to grow in the water, too. You find that the flavoring changes (with hydro).”
AG typically averages 15 to 20 customers a day, and now, during covid, they’ve seen a large jump in customers. Growing is something they promote and definitely something they’re doing.
“Our gardening community has definitely grown. But yes, there has always been a giant community. “ Well, they are going to do nothing short of make the Tri-Cities and Washington their playground, and their awesome community is going to be a plus. They will be here long after the shutdown has passed. I’m already here, so I’ll see you whenever you decide to dig in your garden. The Anything staff are not just in the earth, they’re down to it. They are fun, inviting, inclusive and full of information, they love talking shop.
Bobbi Jo, Kelli, Amanda, Nick…I could have sat in there all day and learned and visited about chair yoga, product and all my plant questions. Thank you for telling me about everything. I’ll be back with a shovel to dig into this all a little deeper. Anything Grows is supporting local vendors daily; follow them to see who they are promoting today! (They are even carrying my quarantine greeting cards.)
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