Business thrives as people turn to plants for comfort and stability during pandemic

Posted at 12:56 PM, Oct 19, 2020

CHICAGO, Ill. -- The coronavirus has hit communities of color especially hard. Financially, it’s also taken a disproportionate toll.

Ozzy Gamez’s neighborhood storefront looks a lot like an indoor jungle.

“Our main focus has been indoor houseplants, tropical cacti, anything weird and exotic, strange,” said Gamez.

Co-owned by his long-time friend and business partner Juan Quezada, they own "The Plant Shop."

“It feels good to come into work and just put my hands on some soil and just kind of bond with people over something that's very natural, very organic,” said Quezada.

For many in the Latino community, a connection to caring and nurturing plants is intertwined with family and culture. Gamez grew up in Belize, surrounded by tropical plants.

“When I was growing up, it was kind of all around,” said Gamez. “My grandfather would plant things and grow things, whether it was for the animals he was raising or whether it's for us.”

“I am Mexican, so I think that in my culture, it plays a big role,” said Quezada. “My mother always used plants for remedies, even as small as like aloes. I had a little cut, she always used that.”

According to the Pew Research Center, the pandemic has hit Latinos especially hard. About 6 in 10 Latinos, 59%, in May said they live in households that have experienced job losses or pay cuts due to the coronavirus outbreak.

Many have found solace during the pandemic in reconnecting with plants, returning to their roots.

“You start thinking about where you came from and thinking about your ancestors,” said Gamez. “Not only think about them, but the places that were meant for me and I start thinking that kind of links it all. It's plants.”

Gamez and Quezada have been fortunate. Business has been good to them during the pandemic.

Despite having to limit the number of customers in the store, demand has increased. They’ve had to double their staff to keep up.

“Our customers are great,” said Quezada. “They completely understand whether they have to wait outside for a second or you have to sanitize your hands coming in or wearing a mask.”

Regulars like Glenn Gallet say it’s all worth it.

“The amount of rare plants and things I'd never seen before, things I've lusted after, I spent a lot of money here over the years. But it's all been worth it,” he said.

In a time when most could use a little extra care, nurturing another living thing could be just the right medicine.