“Some beautiful blessings have come out of COVID,” says Kalkidan (“Kalu”) Gebreyohannes, co-owner of Blk Girls Green House, a shop for plants and home goods in West Oakland, California, “and our business is one of them.” The space opened in August 2020, the state’s deadliest month of the pandemic at that time. Kalu also cites police violence and the loss of Black lives as catalysts to the creation of a sanctuary where people could find solace.
Kalu and co-owner J’Maica Roxanne Thomas describe their shop as symbolic of life, joy and peace; a refuge at a time when our communities could really use one; and a place to smile and connect with our sisters and brothers, in a city with a long history of activism and resistance to racial oppression. It’s a home away from home, an environment filled with light, color, music and good vibes. With plants as the space’s backdrop—including cool-looking and unique species like Begonia maculata, Philodendron Birkin and Maranta Lemon Lime—customers invariably end up wanting to take one home.
“Black people are very familiar with plants,” Kalu says to explain our impulse to welcome greenery into our living spaces. “Lots of Black people have plants, but I think there’s been some detachment from nature over time. Now, there’s this beautiful return. Our customers come in and share that their grandmothers had plants, their fathers had gardens. The concept of connecting with and caring for living things isn’t foreign to our people.”
The synergy between plant care and self-care draws a diverse, multigenerational clientele to the business’s 2,000-square-foot oasis, which currently offers a by-appointment shopping experience Friday through Sunday, due to COVID. “We weren’t completely clear on the impact Blk Girls Green House would have on our community,” J’Maica says. “But the continuous support we’ve been receiving since we opened reveals that we weren’t the only ones feeling like we needed somewhere to breathe.”
Astute and self-assured, the entrepreneurial pair share a love for interiors and for designing dope digs; and they have always prioritized Black creators. When they connected last February for the first time, at Oakland’s Black Joy Parade—an annual celebration of positivity, economic empowerment and creative expression—they instantly hit it off. Six months later, Blk Girls Green House was born.
In addition to perennials, the open-air retail and social space carries an array of other beautiful things for the home and spirit, such as pots, candles, coffee-table books, textiles and even apparel, most of which are sourced from Black artists and makers. “Sheltering in place has really given people an opportunity to home in on what their space looks like and how it makes them feel,” J’Maica says. “If you take inventory of the things you have control over, creating your living space and ensuring the health of your plants can play a big part in that.” When they thrive, you thrive.
What’s next for Blk Girls Green House? “We taking over,” Kalu proclaims, laughing. She’s joking, but it’s clear that the duo have big plans. “We would love to expand,” J’Maica says, and adds that launching Grooves from the Greenhouse, a mini live-concert series, is the roll out that tops their wish list. But first, they note ruefully, we need the pandemic to go away.