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A Black-Owned Plant Shop Blooms In The Pandemic's Wake

Quontay Turner watering plants at the Emerald City Plant Shop in Norwood. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)
Quontay Turner watering plants at the Emerald City Plant Shop in Norwood. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

If someone told Quontay Turner that she'd be opening her first storefront in the middle of a pandemic, she would've laughed. "I wouldn't have guessed in a million years that I'd be opening a store and an event space," she said. "So many businesses were closing! It's crazy right?"

But Turner took the leap anyway. She opened Emerald City Plant Shop in Norwood — New England's first Black woman-owned plant store — a little over  one month ago. Since then, her business has blossomed. "We've had so much support since we started," said Turner. "It's just wild to think that in 2020, the shop was only virtual."

Turner is an entrepreneur at heart and has done a little bit of everything, including running her own Etsy shop and working as a baker. She first started selling plants when she began working at Niche, a plant shop located in Boston's South End. She spent two years working there and then, "the pandemic hit and Niche closed for a little while," Turner said. "When it reopened, sales were insane."

Working at the store only reinvigorated Turner's long love for plants and their emotional and spiritual power. It all started six years ago with Turner's grandmother, who gave her clippings from her spider and pathos plants. It was an inheritance of sorts and it inducted Turner into a long lineage of Black women who care for the earth. Turner admits it was hard to care for her plants in the way she wanted at first. "I was traveling, I was always gone," she said. "But five years ago, I stopped traveling and really started caring for my plants. My collection just grew and grew."

Alchemizing her love of entrepreneurship and plants, Turner debuted the Emerald City Plant Shop on Instagram in January of 2020 and found herself flooded with inquiries and questions. Interest only continued to grow as Turner sold her plants around the Greater Boston area at pop-ups. "I was selling out of all of my plants pretty much every time I did a pop-up." COVID-19 hit and the pop-ups slowed but Turner was still busy fulfilling orders coming in from Instagram. As the year marched on, Turner started getting the same question over and over again: "Do you have a store?"

Turner thought about it but was initially a little wary. "We're in the middle of a pandemic," Turner joked. "I mean, who opens a store when everything is closing?" But the pandemic ended up being a blessing in disguise. In January, a year after her initial launch, she serendipitously noticed an empty storefront in Norwood after getting a massage across the street. "And it was available to rent!" she said. There were doubts from others about Turner securing a storefront and, "I felt like people were projecting their fears onto me," said Turner. "But I was determined to do this. And it ended up working out because a lot of businesses closed during the pandemic and no one wanted to rent. So I ended up getting the storefront at a much more affordable price."

Quontay Turner works on trimming and weeding a Pygmy Palm tree at the Emerald City Plant Shop in Norwood. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)
Quontay Turner works on trimming and weeding a Pygmy Palm tree at the Emerald City Plant Shop in Norwood. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

In just a few short months, Turner renovated the space and held her grand opening for the shop on May 1. That day, Turner sold all of the plants in her shop and had to close to have enough time to restock. "I'm grateful it was busy but also glad it slowed down a bit," she said. "Now I can keep up with inventory."

Emerald City Plant Shop specializes in tropical plants but also offers low maintenance plants for the nascent green thumb or frequent traveler. "What I found is that many people buy plants that aren't suitable for their lifestyle," Turner pointed out. "Plants are living and breathing. You have to matchmake your life and the plant's needs appropriately or it'll never work out."

Turner wants to teach her customers about the tenants of plant care and how those tenants tie into taking care of one's self. "Most plant care guidelines are applicable to us," she explained. "Sometimes you have to prune a plant, like you have to prune your life. Or maybe the plant's pot is too small. Are you staying in an environment that's too small for you? Plants and their lessons so often replicate real life. We can learn a lot from them."

While the store is everything Turner dreamed of, she has bigger plans for Emerald City Plant Shop. As a Black woman, it was important to her to have a storefront that could also serve as a communing space for communities of color in Boston and beyond. "There's such a shortage of cultural spaces for POC," she said. "Either it's too expensive, too far or there are gatekeepers keeping us out." Community members can now book Emerald City Plant Shop for small, intimate events like book readings or poetry nights.

There are many exciting possibilities in the future for Turner and her shop. The pandemic taught her that nothing can get in the way of a dream that wants to flower. "Take the leap," Turner says to those who are also considering opening their own business. "Even if it's a small leap, you have to start somewhere."

The spider and pathos plants that influenced Turner to take that leap? She still has them. "They're still with me," she said. "They're two of the oldest plants I have."

They serve as a constant reminder that the smallest things can grow and bloom into something beautiful.

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Arielle Gray Twitter Arts Engagement Producer
Arielle Gray is the Arts Engagement Producer for The ARTery. She manages its social media, events and curated content.

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