Burned-out producer finds a new dream in her tiny plant shop
This is the latest in a series we call Plant PPL, where we interview people of color in the plant world. If you have any suggestions for PPL to include in our series, tag us on Instagram @latimesplants.
Is it possible to turn what you love into what you do?
After years of struggling with burnout while working long hours as a producer, Sasha Pace was willing to give it a shot.
In September, after hosting bimonthly plant pop-ups on the patio of her apartment, Pace took a leap of faith and opened Vida Plant Shop in a tiny showroom in downtown Long Beach.
Measuring just 170 square feet, the sun-filled showroom feels like a cross between your favorite plant shop and neighborhood gift store with several different varieties of plants — Monstera, peperomia, aglaonema and fiddle-leaf figs — and small-batch, locally sourced goods.
On the shelves are handmade accessories by local artists, women and people of color, including plant holders by Little Feral, custom ceramic pots by Long Beach ceramist Beth Bowman, tiny pots by Long Beach’s Sara Pilchman Ceramics and eco-friendly candles by Moco and Roen.
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Pace, 33, was born to a Puerto Rican mother and a Black father who encouraged her to embrace both of their cultures.
“When people look at me, they don’t know what nationality I am,” she says. “It makes it hard for me. Especially with the cultural shift that has been happening. Sometimes it feels like people want me to claim one or the other, but that’s unfair. I identify with being Puerto Rican and Black equally. I want to represent both cultures.”
For Pace, selling goods by a diverse group of artists is part of what motivates her as a businesswoman. “I have soaps from Wato Soap, a Japanese and Black artist. I also sell hand-rolled incense from a company called Incausa that employs Indigenous artisans in Peru. When I host events, all of the vendors I invite are people of color. I plan on featuring more artists of color in the shop. It’s really important to me.”
Like the tropical plants that dance in her showroom, Pace cannot wait for her plant shop to grow.
“I wanted to start small,” she says. “But I hope to have a bigger space one day. I feel a desire and responsibility to get involved as much as I can in my neighborhood.”
I caught up with Pace to talk about her journey from advertising to plant shop owner and the old-school marketing campaign she implemented on her way to opening her first retail store.
What inspired you to open a plant store?
My background is in advertising. I produced commercials for some big brands and advertising agencies. It’s a very stressful, high-pressure job with no work-life balance whatsoever. I was working 60 hours a week and felt like I was working all the time. I was suffering major burnout and felt unfulfilled.
Plants became my form of self-care and were a healthy way for me to slow down. When I checked in with them to see if they needed water or sunlight, it was a way for me to connect to the present moment instead of being on my phone or computer all the time.
How did you make the jump from advertising to plant store owner?
I was freelancing during the pandemic but was out of work a good part of the time. I loved plants so much and had about 50 plants in my Long Beach apartment. So I opened the side patio of my apartment and did a pop-up plant shop twice a month. I put old-school, handwritten “plant sale” signs on a busy corner and it worked! People were into plants during the pandemic and so many people showed up. I was shocked and touched.
It was a wonderful way to meet my neighbors and connect with people after being isolated for so long. It took off, so I wanted to see if I could do it full-time, be happy and make a living. I saved as much money as I could, quit my job and opened Vida on Sept. 4. It’s only been 4½ months, but I’m loving it. It’s scary, but I don’t regret opening the shop. I hope it works.
It’s a big jump.
It’s scary. I am a one-woman show and self-funded. I don’t have any employees and do everything myself. I hand-pick all the plants from local independent nurseries. I always want to get the most beautiful, healthy, gorgeous plants in different colors and patterns so that I have a nice variety of plants for people to pick up.
My brother and mom watched the shop for me when I was sick. But Long Beach feels like a good neighborhood for this and I wanted to start out slow and grow. I feel a sense of community here that makes it special. You don’t feel it in L.A. where people are all transplants. People really want to come out and support local mom-and-pop shops.
The Long Beach plant community seems like such a tight-knit group.
It’s wonderful how supportive the plant community is in Long Beach. We are not competitive and we root for each other. Dynelly [del Valle of Pippi+Lola] was one of the first people in the plant community to welcome me here. Foliage LB also came and introduced themselves and sent their support. Courtney Warwick of Black Girl Green Thumb came and took some photos and reposted them on her social media and I was so touched by that. There is no competitiveness or jealousy, just a lot of support and encouragement. It makes me emotional. I’m so grateful for the support. Most of the time I feel like I don’t know what I’m doing.
Speaking of Dynelly, when I interviewed her, she joked that it took her 15 years to meet another Puerto Rican in Los Angeles. Has that been your experience?
[Laughs.] I didn’t meet a lot of Puerto Ricans growing up in the San Fernando Valley. My mom always honks her horn and waves when she sees someone driving with a Puerto Rico flag sticker on the back of their car.
Puerto Rico is such a lush place. Has it influenced your love of plants?
I would definitely say that traveling to Puerto Rico over the years has influenced my love of plants. One plant that makes me think of my culture is the aloe vera. Growing up, my grandmother would show me how to use the plant as a mask. She would scrape the pulp and put it in a tonic. It was a way to be connected to plants and use them in ways other than decoration. Cultural knowledge and traditions are so meaningful.
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Your family sounds supportive.
They are so proud. I’m the first person in my family to own my own business. My aunt told me that I’m furthering the legacy of our family and am an example to my younger cousins.
For the grand opening, we had a party and played music and lit sage and set good intentions for the shop. My grandmother prayed over it in Spanish. My family is infused in this space.
The name Vida must have some significance?
I thought it was important to name the store Vida because vida means life in Spanish and plants and nature are life. It’s definitely a part of my culture. I was proud to name my store a Spanish word.
How would you describe the store’s vibe?
Calm. It’s welcoming and bright and refreshing. I play my music and light my incense. I love all different types of music. That’s something that I’d like to expand in the future. I want to collaborate with artists and invite local DJs to create a plant playlist that is inspired by nature or the seasons.
If I had to pick one, I’d have to pick the anthurium. The blooms are so colorful and vibrant and there is something sexual about them. They are waxy and wet.
What are your dreams for the future?
I hope to have a bigger space one day so that I can host more workshops and events. I’d like to host plant-based dinners, art shows, botanical dying workshops. I want to do things that bring people together.
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