When Sandra Mejia was looking for a place to open a storefront for Chica tree — the thriving botanical business she and her husband started in 2018 — she looks no further than her South Los Angeles neighborhood.
After selling plants on street corners around LA and eventually from her parents’ backyard, Mejia said it was imperative she kept Plant Chica in her community, which she describes as a green desert with very little parks and tree nurseries.
Mejia said: “This is my roots. “I am very passionate about my community.”
At first, finding rental properties in their neighborhood was difficult, but eventually, the couple discovered a second-hand car store on a deserted corner of Jefferson Avenue in West Adams. . With the help of family, creative friends and loyal supporters, they were able to transform it into a charming communal space where gay-centered poetry nights, events Free tree adoptions, yoga classes, art exhibitions, and kids’ parties are almost done. weekly since opening in 2021. Mejia and her husband, Bantalem Adis, have been trying to create Plant Chica, what they affectionately call their “greenhouse,” more than just a plant store. They want to build a paradise where the underrepresented and those who look like them can feel cared for and served.
Now, the fate of Plant Chica is in limbo as the developers are planning to tear down the store to build a new construction that could take up to two years to complete. After 90 days of notice, the couple have until June 30 to leave.
New development in LA can be stressful, especially in communities like South LA as urban renewal heats up. After Mejia received the “heartbreaking” notice that Plant Chica would have to move, she shared the news on Facebook. Instagram. Her emotional video has garnered thousands of likes and property owners have since been eager to help. Romie Chaudhari, one of the space’s owners, said he was “hurt” when he watched Mejia’s video and has since made several choices for Plant Chica, such as bringing in the plant shop. into the development project, helping them find a new location. space or sell them property.
For Mejia, having the ability to move is an issue she feels at peace with. However, securing a long-term future for the family business in her area is a more thorny issue.
“I don’t fight with my landlord to stay here,” she said, adding that she has no problem with the landlord or the property owner. “I am also a businesswoman and I understand that is business. You have a plan for that space – that’s okay.
“My problem is that there are bigger developers that own too much land in Jefferson. [Boulevard] and it’s empty,” Mejia said. “And when we called, no one answered, and then when someone answered, they said it wasn’t available, but they had a ‘rental’ sign.”
She added, “We wanted to continue to give space to our community, but we couldn’t because we couldn’t afford it. That is my problem.”
Mejia and Adis launched a Fundraising via GoFundMe this month, earning about $35,000 of their $100,000 goal to start over. If Plant Chica doesn’t hit its target – the number is likely to grow – it will act as an online-only operation for the foreseeable future. Mejia does not expect Chaudhari to sell the property to her, but she is considering his offer if she can get funding.
They prefer to buy property in South LA rather than rent it out because ownership provides security and an alternative to overpriced prices. At first, they didn’t think owning land in LA was possible for them as children of immigrants. Her family is from El Salvador, he is from Ethiopia. But they believe it is their best option now.
“I think owning land is so important that this is not going to keep happening,” Mejia said, bolstered by the community support they have received. Plant Chica also received $25,000 in venture capital support from The Annenberg Organization last year, but the money was paid for wages and taxes and to support businesses during the slow winter months.
If the couple is involved in the redevelopment, they will have to leave their current space for about two years during construction.
“I knew it wasn’t what we were looking for because we wanted to feel like a greenhouse,” says Mejia of being part of the redevelopment. “I don’t want four walls and white [space]. I want it to be like a greenhouse for our community. … It’s like a different space when you walk in and that’s what helps people heal. Plant Chica will still have to be temporarily relocated if the pair join forces with Chaudhari. He said he could give her another space in the meantime.
Meanwhile, Mel .’s Fishing Tent, which has been serving fried fish in the area for decades, will be part of the project. Earlier this month, owner Georgette Powell was told she would have to leave her space by May 2024 while construction was underway.
“I didn’t know where I was going, but I knew I had to make this work,” Powell said of the construction phase. “I have to be here for the community.”
Powell, who talks about Mejia and Adis affectionately, says she understands their anxiety about the situation: “If you’re a small business and you don’t have big backing or a lot of capital or family. to pay for it, then it’s raw. And as someone who has lived in the area for many years, Powell says she’s seen the neighborhood’s demographic shift and property prices skyrocket. But she doesn’t view Chaudhari’s team like other flash investors.
“[He’s] always really easy to deal with,” said Powell, adding that he helped her financially when her business was struggling during the pandemic. “I was in trouble and they understood, and they worked with me.”
“I want them to understand that they have an ally in me, not an enemy,” Chaudhari said of Plant Chica.
Mejia isn’t just driven by her business needs. She also cares about the communities her business supports.
“So many different organizations [and] So many different people depend on us,” she said. “They hold monthly events at our store, and so it’s like, ‘Oh my God. Where will they go?’ I worry about that.”
Mel Douglas, founder Yoga group for black women, has hosted about 20 events at Plant Chica over the years, said she hopes they can stay in the vicinity.
“Sandra is one of the most community-minded people I have ever met,” said Douglas, who used to live a few blocks from Plant Chica but now lives in Sherman Oaks. “She really cares about the community and I’ve experienced that countless times, from her allowing us to host events there for free. She never charged us for the space or charged anyone to do activities there.”
DeMarkus Trinidad Williams, co-owner of Soul Food Candle Company and has attended several events at the plant store, saying they admire Plant Chica because it provides a “safe space” for black and brown gays, which is something they don’t have when grew up in Inglewood.
“So there I am and now I am older and have seen so many weird young people who can feel safe and seen and be able to shop and find something that fits their pocket. money and just being treated like a normal person with acts of kindness is wonderful. . So for that to go away is really heartbreaking,” said Trinidad Williams. (They’re planning to introduce a donation box for Plant Chica at their upcoming pop-up event at Santa Monica Place in June for Pride month.)
Mejia waited a few weeks to share the news of the loss on social media because she didn’t want to be distracted from being active around another “necessary” green space that was also at risk of closure. . In April, the developers suddenly posted a “for sale” sign on Compton . Community Garden, their product can feed 100 families per week. Another online fundraiser through GoFundMe has raised nearly $500,000, and community garden leaders are in talks to save the garden, a source recently said. Instagram post.
Mejia said small businesses, which are prone to “evolution,” are not always able to tell their stories or ask for help, so they often disappear from their communities without an answer. prefer. Mejia’s new “dream” is to partner with other black and brown-owned small businesses to buy land on which they can all operate, like Slauson Supermarketwhere a number of like-minded businesses are hosted.
“I want to be there for these small businesses who can’t stay in their neighborhoods anymore,” she said. “Because it’s scary to feel, ‘What do we do? I have no idea.'”
While the ordeal was intense, it gave her an even greater purpose, she said.
“For a long time, a lot of us felt the same way about the neighborhood change, but we didn’t say anything about it. Or if so, we talk to each other. No one ever listened to us,” Mejia said. “So I feel like I’m becoming a voice for all the kids growing up there, and it’s definitely not something I signed up for but I feel it’s important.
“This is a lot bigger than me and a lot bigger than Plant Chica.”