Calista to open a new houseplant shop downtown this fall
By Katy Savage
RUTLAND—In March 2020, just days before the state shutdown due to the coronavirus pandemic, Calista Budrow moved into a new house with her family in Rutland. She brought her small collection of houseplants with her. A year later, Budrow has more than 100 plants in her 2,000 square foot house.
Budrow has everything from small succulents, to hanging plants, to large floor plants.
“It just really took over during the pandemic,” she said. “You’re at home, so you’re collecting plants to take care of. That’s when I really started learning more about some varieties that were less common to me before.”
Budrow, 34, isn’t alone. Plant retailers reported a surge in sales during the pandemic, as people found comfort in having something to take care of. People spent $8.5 billion more, or almost 19%, on gardening in 2020 than they did in 2019, according to data from the U.S. Census Bureau.
Budrow is turning the obsession into an occupation. She is opening GreenSpell Plant Shop this fall at 35 Center St. in Rutland, in the former Christian Science Reading Room.
“When I was researching this idea, it was kind of crazy to me how many plant shops have opened in the last six months,” Budrow said.
The nearby options to buy plants were scarce, however, according to Budrow.
“I feel like I can bring that plant shop culture to Vermont,” she said.
Budrow’s husband Brian, a contractor, is squeezing in 20 hours of work on the weekends around his full-time job to renovate the building. While the downstairs will be the plant shop, the upstairs will be a short-term rental.
“We did a whole gut job downstairs,” Budrow said. “We’re working as hard as we can.”
Budrow plans to sell common houseplants, but will also focus on rare plants that you can’t find at hardware stores, like String of Little Pickles.
Budrow hopes to open by Oct. 1, in time for fall events on Center Street. For now, she created a makeshift greenhouse in her home for plants she wants to bring to tent sales this summer.
“I’m looking at houseplants 24/7,” Budrow said. “Some of the growers are picking up on houseplants as a trend — hopefully a trend that’s here to stay.”
Budrow and her family moved from Arizona to Vermont two years ago after participating in the state’s Stay to Stay program. The program, which launched in 2018, is the Department of Tourism and Marketing’s effort to bring young families to Vermont. Those interested in moving are invited to stay in different parts of the state for a long weekend, meet with locals, and decide if Vermont is for them.
Budrow heard about Stay to Stay while listening to National Public Radio in the car on her way home from a teaching conference in Arizona.
“It was in March and it was already super hot,” she said. Budrow and her husband lived in several states, including Colorado, Utah and Washington before Vermont. They wanted a place to raise their two kids.
They visited Vermont for four days in April 2019 and attended a meet-and-greet at the Hop’n Moose, which 20-30 community members attended.
“That was really impressive,” Budrow said.
They ate at several local restaurants and attended a mixer at the Paramount Theatre. They also met a real estate agent and bought a multi-family housing unit in the area two months later.
The Budrows were interested in trying Vermont life before, but the weekend “helped get us settled in and sealed the deal for Rutland,” Budrow said.
She said the community made them want to call Vermont home.
“We’ve met a lot of friends,” she said. “It feels like we have a lot more opportunity to make a little bit of a difference here.”
They didn’t have any job interviews when they came, but her husband had help finding employment through the Rutland Red Carpet concierge program, which connects those interested in moving to Rutland with a community volunteer to ease the transition. Brian now works at VMS Construction.
Lyle Jepson, the executive director of the Chamber and Economic Development in Rutland, said the Budrows’ success models the vision for Stay to Stay and Rutland Red Carpet programs.
“The intent of the program is to attract a new population of neighbors and businesses,” Jepson said. “Really cementing their relationship with the Rutland community models what we hope the program will do now and into the future.”
Jepson called the plant shop everything they could hope for, for the Budrows.
The Budrows moved to their new house on Kingsley Avenue in Rutland last March, three days before the shutdowns.
“We feel really fortunate to have moved when we did,” Budrow said.
Budrow, a former science teacher, said she finally feels settled in Rutland, which contributed to her plant collection. Some of her plants were bought, others were gifts from friends. One came from her neighbor, Barry Keefe. Keefe, 71, lives across the street. He retired as city assessor for Rutland last year. Keefe has several plants, but none he’s had as long as Queen of the Night. The unusual cactus is 42 years old and traveled with Keefe from his college dorm in Virginia back to Vermont.
The plant was a gift from Keefe’s fraternity brother Alex Niermiera at Roanoke College in Virginia. Niermiera is now a tenured professor at Virginia Technical College and a world-renowned botanist.
Keefe remembers riding with the plant in the front seat of his car when he moved from Virginia home to Vermont, where he grew up. He’s propagated it as a gift many times. “People see it and say, ‘What the hell is that?’” Keefe said. “It’s a very strange looking plant, the way it grows. It only blooms once a year. It’s very resilient.” Keefe said he sees himself in the Budrows.
The Budrows are the youngest people on the street. Like them, Keefe moved to Rutland, to the same street he’s on now, when he was about their age. He met his wife in Rutland and was with her for more than 40 years until she died last year. Back then, Keefe was the youngest on the street.
“Now I’m the old widower,” Keefe said. “It does my heart good to have [the Budrows] across the street. They’re young people, new blood. They are excited about Rutland and they love it here. And they’re investing here.
“It’s their turn to make this whole community better.”