BELONGING

Local Business Spotlight: How Virgil’s Plants survived—and thrived—during lockdown

By

Angela Cravens Chander

– VOL. 3

Launching a business is a daunting endeavor in even the best of scenarios. For Virgil’s Plant Shop owner Reba Hamilton, whose Cherry Street storefront is now bustling with energy, “daunting” doesn’t even begin to describe it. 

“When everything shut down during the second week of March 2020, I was moving into my Troost Avenue location,” she describes. “I immediately halted all projects for building out the walk-in storefront.” At a time when most of us were indoors, Reba shifted her business to a delivery model—and business was booming. “I love that plants bring people a lot of joy and make people happier in super stressful times.” 

She soon found herself driving all over town, dropping off gems from her houseplant collection. “It was a great way to learn the city,” she laughs. “I was all over the place, but I wasn’t interacting with anyone. I wouldn’t even touch doorbells.” She soon discovered that Instagram provided a virtual storefront for her business, and she started surprising her followers with limited-time Plant Drops. 

Image of Virgil's Plant truck kansas city missouri

During the pandemic, Virgil’s opted for a mobile store, delivering “plant drops” to neighbors all over Kansas City.

“I heard from so many people how fun these Plant Drops were for them. Even if they can’t come into the shop, they can still have an interactive experience… It’s a fun way for people to see new plants and learn some names and maybe have something delivered to them.”

Eventually, the world started to tentatively emerge again. Though she could only have a few people in her shop at a time, Reba noticed a growing community of first responders among the browsing shoppers. “We’re not too far from Hospital Hill,” she explains. “A ton of nurses and teachers would come by, feeling really defeated. They would tell me they just needed to be around some plants.” Reba realized that her business could provide a respite for neighbors on the front lines of the pandemic. 

“Plants provide an amazing mental health break. Just being in the store can give people a happy moment in a really stressed-out day or week. It’s a chance to decompress and get some fresh air around you with hundreds of plants crammed into one space.”

“The small business community in Kansas City really lifts each other up, which was important during the pandemic.”

Connecting with her customers and fellow small business owners—both IRL and on social media—has been vital to Virgil’s Plants. Reba sees herself as a resource for her customers, and now that she has a larger space where she can finally have gatherings, it’s important to her to showcase other local businesses.

Image of Virgils Plant Truck Kansas City

Owner Reba Hamilton attributes her success to connecting with neighbors and other local businesses.

“The small business community in Kansas City really lifts each other up, which was important during the pandemic.” It’s also been inspiring. On July 10, Reba hosted a block party, inviting other businesses and local makers to host pop-ups selling their goods. From artists to vintage vendors and jewelry makers, she’s thrilled at the diversity of offerings in the neighborhood.

“I like that Mac Properties and Venn [support small businesses and the local maker community]. It’s great that they do as many of these events as possible,” she says, explaining that it gives a big boost to the business community. “It’s possible to do most of your shopping through small business,” she says. “It takes a little more time, but supporting them makes all the difference.”