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Amid pandemic, eco-oriented businesses see success

Nurseries, bulk goods retailers thrive amid pandemic

Gaia Soap Supply co-owner Megan Devey talks about the locally sourced vision involved in the creation of the re-imagined soap supply store at 106 Argall Way in Nevada City. The store has been under new ownership since September 2019.
Elias Funez

Some of Nevada County’s eco-minded retailers experienced relative relief over the course of a year marred by business closures.

Gaia Soap Supply, Kurt’s Garden and Peaceful Valley Farm & Garden Supply are just three of several Nevada County businesses with a shared mission to care for the body and the earth.

The latter two offer this care in the form of plant nurseries, and the former as a refill shop for eco-friendly household and body care soaps.



Gaia’s essential oil specialist Grace Rivera said since the pandemic she has welcomed a new customer to the store almost every other day she worked. Customers bring their own containers to restock essential products like laundry soap, shampoo and conditioner.

“They’ll say something like, ’I’m so sick of buying plastic and I’ve gone by your shop so many times,’ or ’I’ve been watching documentaries about the ocean,’” Rivera said.



A selection of Gaia Soap Supply’s in-house made hand sanitizers can also be found at the re-imagined version of the original soap refill store previously at the same location.
Elias Funez

Rivera said she is unsure what other like-minded retail shops are experiencing, but suspects consumers’ increased interest in all facets of health — toward bulk goods or house plants — reflect a growing collective consciousness in the Nevada County community.

The store’s co-owner, Megan Devey, said Gaia Soap Supply’s relative success in 2020 was necessary after a challenging first few months in 2019, after the store closed for one month between owners.

Devey said the game changer this year actually came after the pandemic began, and her team began concocting their own hand sanitizer.

“We were the only ones with hand sanitizer that we were making by the bucket,” Rivera said. “As a consequence, people who didn’t know about us started coming here.”

Rivera said she is particularly moved by the store’s apparent success as it coincides with the economic fallout of the pandemic, as people pare down their monthly expenses.

Devey said as a recent recipient of the Paycheck Protection Program loan and Women, Infants, and Children benefits, she is sensitive to the wage gap consumers must hurdle in order to “buy green.”

Grace Kelly Rivera works on making a foot lotion last week at Gaia Soap Supply in Nevada City.
Elias Funez

Devey said the increased interest in her store’s products will eventually lower their prices overall, improving consumer accessibility.

Gaia Soap Supply not only provides soaps, essential oils and body butters, but distributes organic products — like beeswax — in bulk to other local entrepreneurs.

Devey said she is grateful for the community’s support so far, and to take part in Nevada County’s holistic care to public health.

Gaia Soap Supply’s Megan Devey shows off some of the many soaps that can be filled into a customer’s container at 106 Argall Way in Nevada City.
Elias Funez

HEALTH AND WELLNESS

Samantha Villella, a horticulturalist hired by Kurt’s Garden in October, said plants and plant-based products offer children and adults an opportunity to create and curate projects using organic materials.

Villella said although she cannot compare current consumer trends to last year’s, Kurt’s Garden is flourishing for COVID and non-COVID-related reasons.

“There’s definitely a surge in people buying plants,” Villella said. “There’s definitely a surge in people renovating the spaces where they are contained.”

Villella said she thinks some of the nursery’s success since August is seasonal, as people add green to their home to combat seasonal depressive disorder.

Now, as people’s personal battles with quarantine restrictions persist, Villella said many patrons trapped at home are coming up with fun do-it-yourself projects.

“Someone just came in to help build a healthy ecosystem for their bearded dragon,“ Villella said. ”They bought herbs to put in their terrarium.“

Bill Hageman, owner of Peaceful Valley Farm & Garden Supply, said he suspects this renewed sense of stewardship reflected in consumer choices was inspired by the year’s theme: health and wellness.

“It’s human instinct,” Hageman explained. “With more time in self-reflection, I think the importance of those elements — nutrition, personal health, investment and care in one’s personal space — come to the forefront.”

Hageman said Peaceful Valley has been a beneficiary of the increased focus on how people take care of themselves, particularly those who have taken to homesteading since working remotely.

Marketing Manager Suzanne Fellows, an employee of the supply store for 13 years, said flooded grocery stores in March highlighted how disconnected the average shopper is from their food source.

“It was this disruption in the supply chain,” Fellows said. “People went into this panic mode and realized, ’Hey, I can grow my own food.’”

Hageman runs a family-oriented business, and his mission is to work with his customers, to provide them with the tools and knowledge necessary to grow their own edibles.

“We try to sell a solution for our customer,” Hageman explained. “You can put a seed in the ground and grow it, but it’s hard and it’s especially hard for people without the knowledge base.”

Hageman said Peaceful Valley Garden & Farm Supply not only donates seeds and fertilizers to local nonprofits and schools, but offers gardening tutorials online.

“2020 hasn’t been rosy for a lot of people out there and we realize that,“ Hageman said. ”Our business is concerned with food insecurity, personal responsibility and dignity. We want to help our community move forward with their lives, save money and improve their mental health — that’s really empowering.“

Rebecca O’Neil is a staff writer for The Union. She can be reached at roneil@theunion.com.


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