On the 800 block of East Johnson Street in Madison plants and flowers are almost literally spilling out of a storefront.
Grow Greenhouse, recently opened by former ER nurse Melissa O’Brien, adds to the unique array of small businesses on the near east side. O’Brien began Grow with just two trays of plants she put out on her front porch to share with the neighborhood.
“So that kind of took off. From the one table and then I was like, ‘Okay fine I’ll do four tables full.” Then people were asking for bigger plants and more plants and I’m like, ‘Well I can’t keep up this is just in my house,” O’Brien said.
Those trays of plants grew into a driveway popup that grew into Grow Greenhouse. When a storefront just two doors down became available for rent, O’Brien took it as a sign.
Inside the shop on a sunny weekday afternoon O’Brien helps customers find the plant, pot and price that works for them.
“How it works here is if you see a plant you like and not the pots, or a pot you like and not the plants, you can mix and match them. Or you can just get the pot or just get the plant,” said O’Brien.
This mix and match sales method is for more than just customer convenience, it’s part of O’Brien’s mission. Along with repurposing used materials to decrease waste, O’Brien is passionate about access.
“If I could put a plant in everyone’s home I would be so happy. Just making plants available to everybody at a cost they can afford,” said O’Brien.
Grow Greenhouse opened in February of this year, while the city and world were still living with the difficult reality of the COVID-19 pandemic. O’Brien says it’s the small things, like house plants, that can help bring people joy.
“I definitely think that the pandemic has encouraged a lot more people to get into house plants. I think it makes a big difference that people are home a lot more than they used to be,” O’Brien said.
O’Brien shares on Grow Greenhouse’s website that after 15 years in the healthcare industry she was burnt out. Her new venture is a way to help herself and others find gratitude, optimism and wellness. As I walked around the small shop absorbing the many varieties of greenery I’m taken aback by a beautiful white bird.
“Yeah that’s Peach, she’s a Moluccan cockatoo. She’s 8 years old and she comes to the store as often as she can,” said O’Brien.
Although Peach can talk, she had no comment for WORT.
Selling plants and flowers to Madison residents is a bit of a family tradition for O’Brien. In the 1950s her great grandparents owned the local floral shop Ronlie’s. O’Brien shares that neighborhood residents and local businesses have been receptive and welcoming to her new store.
Grow Greenhouse is open on Thursday – Sunday. It’s next door to the Little Tibet restaurant and across the street from Upshift thrift shop — and at night, you can see the glow of a green neon sign proclaiming “Grow.”