By SIENNA PARK
In the midst of the 2020 COVID-19 lockdown, garden centres were among the only shops open. Gardening is one of the few industries that have thrived amidst the economic turmoil caused by the global pandemic.
In 2020, many people (myself included) around the world started gardening. It provided a much-needed mental health outlet as people found joy in being outdoors, and were able to engage in a little human interaction at garden centres.
The gardening industry is a multibillion-dollar business. When you walk into large corporate retail stores, the selection is often driven by very large contracts between the suppliers and retail giants, marketing, and brand names, rather than simply the best quality products. In many of these large, corporate garden centres, the majority of the employees have no gardening experience.
Last year I stumbled across a family-run indoor/outdoor garden store on Gerrard Street East (just west of Woodfield Road) that provided me with a very different experience.
Upon entering Astral Grow I was first greeted by the handsome Dante, the store dog, a Border Collie-Labrador mix. Although not officially on payroll, I have been advised he receives his share of quality treats.
Evan Kendal, the owner, and his siblings, Alastair and Liza, round out the Astral Grow team. All of them are passionate growers themselves.
The store has a gorgeous earthy smell that any gardener would love to bottle. I love perusing the shelves for quality products from small independent companies (frequently Canadian) that are usually not available at larger retailers.
Every time I go there, I learn something new. Evan, Alastair, and Liza thoughtfully recommend a selection of products for me. In an industry that is focused on mass sales, Astral Grow provides a curated service experience that is exceedingly rare at brick-and-mortar stores.
Evan Kendal opened Astral Grow in January 2019 in anticipation of the legalization of cannabis. He saw a lack of hydroponic stores in the Beach community,where he grew up and still lives, and wanted to make indoor growing more accessible. The business eventually morphed into an indoor/outdoor garden store in response to customer feedback.
Shopping local is important for a multitude of reasons including supporting the local economy and residents, and reducing your carbon footprint.
By buying local you are contributing to a rich and diverse local culture. Evan selects his products based on customer feedback in contrast to large retailers that have buyers who do not interact with customers.
As he stated, “I like to support smaller companies in a similar situation to me and find that it helps both of us since they give us more time and assistance than big companies do.”
In response to the query about how he competes with large corporations he replied, “You can’t ignore Amazon, it’s not sustainable to just expect your business to live off the support local initiatives. You need to offer competitive pricing. There is a misconception that because we are a specialty shop that we have higher pricing. We offer competitive pricing, curated product selection, and solution-focused service.”
Astral Grow has grown steadily throughout the pandemic and had had to relocate twice to a larger unit.
Future plans include workshop offerings and to eventually open a second location in Ontario.
In this uncertain economic climate, it seemed online ordering would become the dominant purchase mode for consumers, so it is refreshing and hopeful to see a family run brick-and-mortar store like Astral Grow thriving like its namesake suggests.
For more information on Astral Grow, you can visit their website at https://astralgrow.com