Monday, July 4, 2022

Plant community flowering in Wilmington’s Cargo District

Sarah Mertz arranges houseplants she has for sale at her new business, the Plant Outpost, located in the Cargo District in downtown Wilmington. (Port City Daily photo/Johanna F. Still)
Sarah Mertz arranges houseplants she has for sale at her new business, the Plant Outpost, located in the Cargo District in downtown Wilmington. (Port City Daily photo/Johanna F. Still)

WILMINGTON — A newly founded plant community is growing in the Cargo District. Last month, the shipping container village that spans a few blocks off Queen Street downtown welcomed two new like-minded businesses.

The Plant Outpost, a houseplant shop opened its storefront next to Queen Street Barbershop. Petals To The People, a flower delivery business took over a second-story container overlooking the Cargo District’s newest incubator hub, the Outpost.

Related: Breakfast and burger joint newest addition to Wilmington Cargo District’s Outpost

Both mothers and plant lovers, the business owners have found themselves doing better even after the pandemic and credit their independence and tight-knit Cargo community with their success.

The Plant Outpost

Earlier this month, The Plant Outpost owner Sarah Mertz hosted a Varnish + Vine pop-up shop outside her new store. The company brought in dozens of lifesize cacti and people lined up around the block in 90-degree heat to buy them. That’s right — customers sweated it out in line to buy houseplants.

The Plant Outpost has opened in a shady spot next to Queen Street Barbershop in the Cargo District. (Port City Daily photo/Johanna F. Still)
The Plant Outpost has opened in a shady spot next to Queen Street Barbershop in the Cargo District. (Port City Daily photo/Johanna F. Still)

Mertz knew early on Wilmington may have an appetite for a carefully curated houseplant store. Three years ago, Mertz said she texted the owner of Bespoke Coffee, Chris Batten: Do you think Wilmington would ever have a market for some kind of plant shop?”

His response, Mertz said, was yes — “and you need to do it before somebody else does.”

Since moving into her first physical storefront in the Cargo District, Mertz is having trouble meeting demand, with stock quickly dwindling. That’s why she calls the store a “permanent pop up” for now and hosts limited hours, which she keeps updated on the shop’s Instagram.

The Plant Outpost has opened in a shady spot next to Queen Street Barbershop in the Cargo District. (Port City Daily photo/Johanna F. Still)
The Plant Outpost has opened in a shady spot next to Queen Street Barbershop in the Cargo District. (Port City Daily photo/Johanna F. Still)

Losing clients through her freelance brand consulting business when the pandemic hit turned out to be a blessing for Mertz. The downtime gave her more time to get her store ready and now has no plans to return to anything else. “It’s a mixture of loving plants and wanting to have my own business and do my own thing,” she said.

Until recently, Mertz was driving down to Florida and handpicking every item. She tried delivery from a supplier and wasn’t satisfied, so now she meets her mother halfway between North Carolina and Florida to pick up new batches.

The Plant Outpost has opened in a shady spot next to Queen Street Barbershop in the Cargo District. (Port City Daily photo/Johanna F. Still)
The Plant Outpost has opened in a shady spot next to Queen Street Barbershop in the Cargo District. (Port City Daily photo/Johanna F. Still)

“Florida is the plant plug,” Mertz said. Her parents live in Florida, where she first visited a plant shop that doubled as a wedding event space. She aims for the Plant Outpost to also serve as a multi-purpose space; in the month since opening, Mertz said six boutiques have used the small 20-foot shop as a backdrop for photoshoots.

In the small store, she’s got highly sought after variegated monsteras (monsteras are common but it’s hard to find them with cow-patterned leaves), the always in-demand sansevieria, cacti, locally-crafted pottery, “plant daddy” and “plant lady” cards, plant-related trinkets, and more.

The Plant Outpost is one of the featured stops on the sold-out Cargo Crawl Aug. 1, a new community event highlighting the district’s independent businesses.

“The whole community is just incredible,” she said. “It’s really worked out.”

Metal to … metal

After starting out her business in a revamped activity bus, Petals To The People owner Erin Ellsworth has moved up to a new metal space. Overlooking the courtyard of the Outpost, Ellsworth has more space to craft her “beespoke” bouquets set to be delivered to her growing crew of monthly subscribers.

Each bouquet is unique, sourced from whatever is available and in season. The business has no menu; all arrangements are Ellsworth’s creations of the day. Recently, she picked up several restaurant and business clients, delivering arrangements on a more frequent basis.

Petals To The People has taken over a renovated shipping container in the Outpost, the Cargo District's new incubator hub. (Port City Daily photo/Johanna F. Still)
Petals To The People has taken over a renovated shipping container in the Outpost, the Cargo District’s new incubator hub. (Port City Daily photo/Johanna F. Still)

At the Outpost, she splits a cooler with Alcove Beer Garden, where her fresh cuts sit next to kegs. “It’s good for all of us,” Ellsworth said of joining the Outpost. “We’re all bringing business to each other.”

Though she’s not quite set on how customer-facing she wants her workspace to be, being at the Outpost has given Petals To The People more visibility. Plus, she plans to permanently park the seafoam green flower bus nearby soon.

“It’s a nice sense of community,” she said. “All of this is new and different.”

Petals To The People has moved into a red, second-story shipping container in the Cargo District's new Outpost incubator hub. (Port City Daily photo/Johanna F. Still)
Petals To The People has moved into a red, second-story shipping container in the Cargo District’s new Outpost incubator hub. (Port City Daily photo/Johanna F. Still)

Send tips and comments to Johanna Ferebee Still at johanna@localdailymedia.com

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