Plant and People is a small plant nursery located at 1431 N. 52nd St. Run by mother-daughter duo Cherron Perry Thomas and Alma Thomas, Plant and People is a Black-, family-, and woman-owned business with a goal to make plants accessible in Philadelphia. After opening during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, Plant and People has worked to spread the word of wellness and the healing power of plants.
Cherron Perry Thomas shared her experience opening the store and her joy for plants.
When did you open Plant and People? What was the experience like?
Plant and People was definitely a pandemic baby. We opened Plant and People on December the 18th of 2020 and it was one of the coldest days of the year. It really had us second guessing if this was the right idea or not. We opened a space full of tropical plants but it was so freezing cold outside. Of course as the spring and summer came that all changed, but I will say it was one of the craziest things to just look outside and see a ton of snow on the ground while you’re in this tropical paradise.
Have plants always been a part of your life? What was the journey for you like that led you to open Plant and People.
I grew up in Memphis, Tennessee and one of the things about growing up in the southern part of the United States is that a lot of people have agriculture in their blood. Most of my family had gardens and pretty much everyone we knew had gardens. Plants were one of those things that were really abundant there. If you ask my daughter Alma, plants have always been a part of her life. Alma grew up gardening. I remember her 5th birthday party which was a garden party. We actually had the birthday party in our community garden.
In your opinion, why is greenery so important for people’s well being?
Plants are useful. Plants are very therapeutic. Plants give us the opportunity to center ourselves internally while things are going on in the outer world that we can’t control. Plants really don’t demand a lot; they allow us to just be. So taking care of plants is important. The more that we take care of them the more they will take care of us. Plants had done so much for us to lift our spirits and help us through this pandemic so we wanted to share that with others. We wanted to create a space where people could learn more and have accessibility to the plants and products they need to help reach their wellness goals and be able to do that in their own neighborhood.
Do you have a favorite plant?
I would say if I had a favorite it would be the snake plant, aka mother-in-law’s tongue. I would say now I have about 42 varieties of that one specific plant.
What is your advice to people who don’t consider themselves “plant” people? Why is being a “plant” person so important?
I think that it’s really important for people to have plants in their space, whether that’s on their desk, in their dorms, or at schools. Everyone should have plants in their space because it’s just a smaller connection to the planet. Living across the street from a school I have seen children and adults alike throw trash around or litter. When I see these kinds of things I think about how sad it is that these people don’t have a connection with the environment that we live in.
I believe that we should start teaching children earlier on in life, teaching them to be good stewards of the planet. One of the ways to do that is by not polluting it with trash or chemicals. I think that starting off with house plants is a micro to taking care of the planet which is the ultimate goal. House plants are just an extension of the larger environment that we all should take part in caring for.
What has your experience been like being a small business owner?
I will say that a lot of time people think that if you have keys to a door to a brick-and-mortar that you’ll just have customers coming in, and it’s just simply not that easy. Many Americans are accustomed to large box stores. I grew up with big box stores, so as a child, as a young person those things didn’t matter to me; I just wanted the latest whatever. But as an adult, I really value small businesses and I will go out of my way to shop at a small business, a woman owned business, a black owned business; because I understand that many of these owners are able to help and support communities just by the virtue of being in the spaces that they are in.
For me, we try to do this with the selection of our vendors. Our vendors are women, they’re black-owned, they’re LGBTQ+ owned, they’re BIPOC-owned. We want our lifestyles to reflect in our store and be an extension of what we do and what we practice in our daily lives. Plants are just a small part of it, this is a way of life and we want to be able to share what it is that has been beneficial to us.
What is the most rewarding part about being a small business owner?
I think that one of the most rewarding parts about being a small business owner is really just being able to connect with our guests. As a small business owner we have the time to help people with each individual need as opposed to just having a cluster of people like you have in larger stores. I have had plenty of guests come in and say things like, “Wow, we don’t get this from Lowes.” Or, “We can’t get this from Home Depot,” and they are absolutely right. We can give them more than Home Depot, more than Lowes, more than Target. Not that I’m trying to say they are our competitors because we are nowhere near them, but we want people to feel special.
What is the most challenging part?
For me some of the hard parts are simply doing everything that I think is right and someone still not walking in the door. But I know that the products that we have and the plants that we have have been selected with love and selected with a purpose to support and help make people well. I really think the hardest part about being a small business owner is putting everything you have into your business and having people still not value it enough to support it.
How can people get involved to help spread the message of the importance of plants in urban areas?
We are of course in Philadelphia and we have some great organizations like the Philadelphia Horticultural Society (PHS) that does a lot of that work. I think that people can get more involved and engaged with their neighbors by creating plant-scapes that make their neighborhoods and homes more attractive. It’s a way that neighbors can come together to beautify their blocks and neighborhoods. I highly encourage people to volunteer with PHS, it’s definitely a springboard to other avenues of supporting the beautification of the city of Philadelphia.
Community centers and libraries are awesome places that need our support. Many of them are underfunded, so the last thing that they’re thinking about are beautiful landscapes. I think that members of our communities and stewards of the environment should be volunteering with these institutions and ask, like, “Do you mind me taking care of this plant?” Or, “Do you mind me adding some bulbs outside?” These are all things that are really important. The better that we take care of our environment the better we take care of ourselves.
What is your message or goal that you want customers to know?
Part of the goal is really to just have a plant in every home. Plants allow people to look at their environments in a different way, they make connections, and for us plants play a vital role in health. We want to make sure that people understand the importance and for people to feel comfortable to take care of a plant. For a lot of folks, once one plant dies they decide that they just aren’t good care givers and they think they just can’t take care of plants. We want our guests to know that there is actually a plant for everyone. Regardless of how many plants have been killed there is one that every individual will be able to take care of.
We say all power to the plant and people. We are a unit, we are a connection, and with that combination we can do a lot to take care of our environment. The ultimate goal is to leave a better place for future generations to live.
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