Santa Cruz urban plant store Leaf & Vine is celebrating its two-year anniversary, and the first anniversary of its move downtown, this weekend. The store, known for its accessibility to plants ranging from common to rare, is planning its biggest release of rare plants to date Saturday.
Plant lovers’ heaven sits right at the edge of downtown Santa Cruz. It’s hard to miss the urban jungle, with plants scaling every edge of the store from floor to ceiling, and a massive monstera Thai constellation with leaves about 4 feet long resting in the center.
Plants at Leaf & Vine can range anywhere from $2 to $500. The table in the center of the store — at 1532 Pacific Ave., between Zoccoli’s Deli and Bookshop Santa Cruz — holding the monstera is home to an assortment of some of the rarest plants in the country, and also some of the most common. It’s a testament to what Leaf & Vine brings to the table in the Santa Cruz plant community: accessibility.
Now, one year after their move to downtown and two years since Leaf & Vine opened, owners Maria Alvarez and Clay Powell say they’re preparing for their largest event to date. The store’s second anniversary will come with its biggest release of rare plants, the launch of Leaf & Vine merchandise, a raffle and a bakery pop-up.
“We put so many hours into sourcing so many different plants and the key is to try to make them a little bit more accessible and affordable,” Alvarez said. “We definitely sometimes get people walking by outside like, ‘Oh, no, you know, they’re probably expensive because they’re a plant boutique.’ But the truth is, I don’t want people to think like a plant boutique, I just want them to say we’re like a little plant paradise.”
Although Leaf & Vine brings in rare plants that fetch $100 or more, a majority of the store’s greenery costs under $25. Alvarez and Powell are happy to be able to provide the opportunity to purchase rare plants for those who can afford them — and to put those plants on display for the window shoppers.
“It’s a different type of excitement, once you start entering the more uncommon and harder-to-find stuff, '' Alvarez said. “And so trying to get that more accessible to people, whether someone would even buy it or not, but just to see it in person and kind of experience plants in that different sense.”
Supporting other small businesses
For the Leaf & Vine merch set to debut amid Saturday’s anniversary, the store turned to local artist Micael Nuñez, whose designs and prints it was already carrying. It’s just one example of Leaf & Vine’s relationships with other small businesses — many of its other products like pots and hangers are sourced from small outfits such as Korai Goods, Mori Ceramics, Clay Covered Hands and Handpicked Ceramics.
“When you pick up handmade pottery pieces, you can see and feel the difference,” Alvarez said. “It’s just something about each piece is so unique.”
Elaine Tan, owner of Mori Ceramics, does most of her business via Etsy, but says she appreciates her working relationship with Alvarez and Powell.
“I think it’s more intimate than working with bigger businesses,” she said. “I definitely really liked them. The owners are very friendly and very approachable.”
Alvarez says she’s grateful to be working with artists like Tan and to be displaying their work in her store.
“Whenever you put a plant that you have at home in a really nice handmade pot that you kind of bonded with and it just becomes this like pedestal for your plant,” she said. “All of a sudden it makes you value the plant even more and value the vessel that it’s in.”
The party Leaf & Vine threw when it first moved into its current location attracted large crowds, with eager shoppers waiting almost two hours to get into the store. Alvarez and Powell are hoping for another large turnout.
They didn’t want to give away all the surprises, but gave Lookout a few details on a packed weekend. There’s a raffle Friday through Sunday; Saturday features the merchandise launch and the release of their largest rare plant haul to date; and S.C. Bread Boy will be selling cannolis outside the store on Sunday.
It’s so much fun to have bosses that genuinely care about our well being and are just super supportive. It’s been a fun year, and it doesn’t even really feel like it’s been a year, which is great.
— Carissa Ritchardson
Carissa Ritchardson, celebrating her one-year anniversary working for Leaf & Vine, said employees are updating their plant wish lists, hoping Alvarez will be able to bring them in with the latest haul.
“It’s so much fun to have bosses that genuinely care about our well-being and are just super supportive,” Ritchardson said. “It’s been a fun year, and it doesn’t even really feel like it’s been a year, which is great.”
And for Year 3? Alvarez and Powell plan on offering classes and workshops at Leaf & Vine and are working behind the scenes with nurseries and growers to make plants more accessible and affordable.
“When we first started out we couldn’t have imagined,” Alvarez said. “We had the plants and we were hoping to try to create and foster a community of plant lovers and we count our lucky stars each day. We’re so lucky we have the best community ever.”