Botanical Bar Creates a Safe Space in Providence as the City’s First Tropical House Plant Shop

Located in Providence’s West End, the LGBTQ and women-of-color-owned shop provides a speakeasy plant-shopping experience.
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Photo by Kate Ayers

It’s hard to not crack a smile when walking into this pink, fur-coated, 90s-music-loving plant heaven in Providence’s West End. With shelves stacked with verdant tropical house plants and a vibe parallel to that of a cheeky no-boys-allowed girl’s bedroom, there’s much to love about Botanical Bar: Providence’s newest, and only, plant speakeasy shop.

This was always a dream for Massachusetts native Samantha Fontanez. It was her supportive partner, Shalika Shoulders, however, who stepped in as her princess charming and encouraged Fontanez to pursue it for real.

“It was always a goal for Samantha to have a plant shop,” says Shoulders, “it just so happened that there was an opening and we hopped on it. It wasn’t necessarily happening at the best time, but we were like, ‘Well, this is the time.”

For Fontanez, the passion is in the plants, as they represent health and wellness.

“It’s soothing for me, it’s calming for me, it creates a grounding sense of self,” she says. “I know that when my mental health isn’t doing well, neither are my plants. It takes a lot to maintain but it’s rewarding to watch something grow and know that you’re keeping something alive that’s not a child.”

Botanical Bar has been open for less than a month, but in this short time, the LGBTQ and women-of-color-owned small business has seen an overwhelming amount of social media support and in-person traffic.

“Social media so far has been our only form of marketing. It’s playing an amazing role; without it we probably would have customers or sales,” says Fontanez.

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The Botanical Bar instagram account doubled in followers since the shop’s soft opening on January 21, and local interest has only continued to grow. The proof is in the reposts and the likes, it seems. That, and the fact that everyone who has walked past the shop during our twenty-minute conversation couldn’t help but pop their head into the shop and smile.

“There certainly seems to be a market for tropical house plants,” says Shoulders, a newbie to the plant-loving lifestyle. “I think it’s important to have a space where people feel comfortable. I think it’s important that people come in here and they see somebody that looks like them and we don’t assume anything about anyone. I’m someone who gets misgendered all the time, which is very annoying in my opinion, so we just try to treat everybody equally and not assume something about someone based on their appearance. We’re trying to create a safe space.”

And not just a safe space for the LGBTQ+ community, but the BIPOC community as well.

“The house plant community is dominated by white people, and a lot of our plants come from South America, Central America, Southeast Asia, and Africa, and that’s often left out of the conversation.” Fontanez adds. “There needs to be a voice for these communities and addressing that these plants are native to those places. We love them in our homes because they are beautiful, but how are we appreciating the history that comes with them and how they got here?”

While Fontanez says there’s currently no direct way for the Botanical Bar to import the plants from their native growing places, the shop does source its plants from a local wholesaler. Focused on supporting other LGBTQ+ and POC-owned small businesses, everything for sale comes from both local artists and makers across the country.

Your eye is sure to find something new the more time you spend inside this one-room corner space. From key chains and stickers to puzzles and an oversized Monstera plant sitting in the center of the room like a queen on her throne, Botanical Bar has something for everyone. According to the owners, this was intentional.

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Photo by Kate Ayers

“We wanted it to be more of a lifestyle sort of business and we wanted different price ranges of things. Not everyone is a plant person, so we wanted to include them as well,” says Shoulders.

Once she and Fontanez find their footing as powerful small-business operators, they plan to give back to their community.

“We just opened, so we’re still trying to figure everything out, but hopefully wellness classes will come in the summertime,” the pair add enthusiastically. “We plan on bringing in people to do meditation and yoga.”

The connection of wellness to a house plant shop isn’t that far off, as research shows that being surrounded by nature is beneficial for your health and mental well-being. That box will inevitably be checked off, but something that is still on the Botanical Bar’s customers’ wish list is the other half of the shop’s namesake: a bar.

Shoulders is quick to reassure that the bar is coming.

“Eventually we want to go into a storefront space, that’s the future,” she teases. “We want it to be an actual bar with plants dominating, but we want it to be a place where people can hang and lounge.”

“Buy some plants, drink some hard kombucha,” adds Fontanez with a laugh.

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Photo by Kate Ayers

As of now, Botanical Bar offers gorgeous plants, trinkets galore, and all kinds of expert tips on how to cultivate plant life.

“Knowing what kind of plant parent you are and knowing what kind of light you receive is the key,” Fontanez advises. “Everyone has a green thumb, it’s just a matter of knowing the right plant for your space and your personality.”

When asked if there were any other plant gurus employed at Botanical Bar, Shoulders and Fontanez immediately shook their heads with a resounding yet affirmative no.

“It’s just us,” they say, “we’re the only everything.”

To support these two budding entrepreneurs and pick up your own tropical house plant and then some, you can find Botanical Bar at 55 Cromwell St. in Providence. Visit Botanical Bar’s Instagram page @_botanicalbar for more information.

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Photo by Kate Ayers