After a Year of Booming Business, Green-Living Store Moves to Larger Space, Broadens Inventory
By Cristina Bauss
Independent Staff Writer
When Talia Rose and Elliot Tigerlily first opened a business devoted to organic, baby-friendly mattresses and bedding, little did they imagine that — just a year later — they would be moving into a considerably larger location, adding a number of product lines, and looking forward to expanding both their walk-in and Internet business. Since fall 2005, when they opened Organic Grace, they have discovered that what was once a fringe of people dedicated to “living green” has become a burgeoning mainstream movement towards thinking and living in harmony with the planet.
Rose and Tigerlily were first driven to open the store when, while trying to build a non-toxic nursery for their newborn daughter Grace, they were presented with the challenge of tracking down earth-friendly (and human-friendly) cribs, mattresses, bedding, clothing, paints, toys — in essence, everything an infant would need. Organic Grace began as a niche business that quickly expanded into other green products, as Rose and Tigerlily immediately discovered that customers were also looking for environmentally- friendly building materials, cooking utensils, furniture, and common household cleaning products.
In just a year, the couple have expanded the business so much that they have moved into a new location, formerly occupied by Hand to Land. “It started as a fantasy,” Rose laughed, “the idea of moving into this great space. But then we talked to the owner [Scott Downey], and he was totally into what we were doing and really supportive of it, so he agreed to do a two-year lease option.” The downstairs now features the main retail space, which is open, airy, and very inviting, while the expansive upstairs houses a warehouse space, Internet shipping area, offices, a kitchen, and a playroom for Grace. The couple, who live in Piercy, also have a 14-year-old son, Zack.
A Market for Clean Living
Rose was first exposed to customers’ concerns about chemicals and allergens when she owned Kidz-n-More in Garberville in the late 1990’s. “I spoke to a lot of people who had trouble with the chemicals in so many everyday products, and with their kids’ being exposed to them,” she said. In the last several years, mainstream media have paid closer attention to the skyrocketing rate of serious allergies among people in the developed world, a phenomenon that many scientists attribute to the pollutants and toxins that permeate the environment. For example, the October 2006 issue of National Geographic features an article titled “The Chemicals Within Us”; the piece questions whether there is a balance between the benefits of products such as flame retardants, and the increasing body of evidence indicating that man-made materials and compounds adversely affect health.“
What’s toxic in adults is 15 times more toxic in children,” Rose explained. “The chemicals used in mattresses, especially, are really bad. They’ve been found in mothers’ milk and in cord blood, so children are literally being born having already been exposed to toxins in the womb. And when you start with changing your bedding,” she continued, “you’re already sharply reducing that exposure — after all, you spend a third of your life sleeping.” In addition to mattresses, organic cotton sheets, sleeping mats, and baby clothes were part of Organic Grace’s offerings from the beginning, and still continue to sell well. The store also carries eco-friendly toys, herbal children’s medicines, salves, and soaps.“
The response was just great” after the store first opened, Rose continued. She and Tigerlily then began offering Safecoat products in the store, after finding that customers had a keen interest in environmentally-friendly paints, primers, and sealers. In addition to the Safecoat line, they have added “real milk paint,” said Rose, “which is great; you don’t even have to prime. It’s what we used on our steps [in the new location].” Organic Grace is also carrying American Clay plasters from New Mexico, which are troweled onto walls for a distinctly Southwestern (or perhaps Mediterranean) look.
A great advantage of the Safecoat products is that “they’ll seal in toxins and lead paint,” explained Tigerlily, who added that the store has had customers from as far away as Oregon and the Bay Area. They have recently purchased a tinter, so customers may now purchase custom-tinted Safecoat paints as well. For those looking to seriously remodel or build from the ground up, though, there are also plenty of choices: the store is carrying several lines of earth-friendly flooring, including bamboo; cork “from oak trees that are never felled”; sustainably-grown and -harvested hardwoods; and “true linoleum, which is made partly from linseed oil and doesn’t have all the chemicals added to it.”
A Holistic Approach
Rose and Tigerlily plan on offering workshops on installation and usage of the green materials they’re selling, which also include Ultra Touch recycled denim insulation — “no more itchy fiberglass!,” Rose laughed. “We get five to seven calls a week from people interested in it; I was amazed to discover that you couldn’t get it anywhere near here, and people were going to Grass Valley, Santa Rosa, even Portland for it.” They need travel far no more: Rose and Tigerlily have a warehouse full of the stuff, and expect that it will go quickly — delivered in the store’s own biodiesel- fueled delivery van.
Rose and Tigerlily’s philosophy of using green materials has extended to their remodel of the old Hand to Land space. “The entire upstairs is built with particle board,” Rose explained, “which is practically soaked in formaldehyde. We didn’t want to throw it away and further denigrate the environment, then replace it with more wood that required killing more trees.” Instead, they coated it with the Safecoat. Additionally, 80 percent of the lumber used in the model is recycled. “We used all the products that we sell, and turned our showroom into a showcase for them,” Rose continued.
Customers who aren’t familiar with the green materials will have help available to them in the form of Amber Schlagenhauf, “who’s a sustainable- building consultant and designer,” Rose explained (they also carry a number of books on green building, biodiesel, and solar power). In addition to bedding and building materials, the store also offers a large variety of other eco-conscious products, such as carpeting (“wool and hemp without the chemicals”); household cleaning supplies, wax finishes, and septic tank treatments; Pacific Rim Woodworking bed frames (“sustainably-harvested maple with non-toxic finishes”); and non-toxic, Teflon-free kitchen supplies. “For example, we have sippy cups in stainless steel and glass,” explained Rose. “We’re about replacing all of that stuff, because babies are drinking out of plastic, which contains cancer- causing hormone disruptors.”
The expansion has largely been made possible by the business’s web site, organicgrace.com, and by advertising in Mothering magazine. “Fifty percent of our business is on the internet,” Rose explained, “and that’s a big part of the reason we’ve been as successful as we have. We ship all over the country, as well as to Puerto Rico, Alaska, Canada, and England.” The move into the new space has been well-received: “The whole community’s been so supportive, and really happy that the place has been fixed up and is going to be a booming, productive part of Main Street.”
Rose and Tigerlily plan to expand the sustainable- building line to include more FSC (Forest Stewardship Council) certified lumber, salvaged lumber, and other sustainable building products. “One thing we’re trying to do here is create a resource, a gathering place for people who are into green building, into earth-friendly products, and we want to connect our customers with the contractors and builders who are experienced or interested in using these products,” Rose concluded. And along with expansion of the business, grand-opening week brings another sweet milestone: little Grace, after whom her parents’ store was named, will be 2 on Oct. 11.