Anyone who has crossed her path knows that Marci Huston is a fighter, especially when it comes to getting her way regarding setting up a retail nursery outlet in Hollister. She tried once already, back in 2016, when she opened her Garden Mart, an outdoor sales yard located on an empty lot along San Benito Street.
Early on, she realized it was going to be a hard sell because of the homeless population that was already hanging out nearby. They soon began to harass her and her customers, she said. She took her plight to the police, the city council and supervisors, where she felt her comments pretty much fell on deaf ears. She appeared at more than one meeting protesting what she perceived as either an indifference or inability to do anything. Clearly frustrated, she sometimes punctuated her comments with profane placards with obscenities she said the homeless had hurled at her.
Despite using the political process, it was all to no avail. She finally folded her tent, as it were, and headed back out to her nursery on Spring Grove Road to lick her wounds. Instead, she re-grouped and began planning for her next campaign to establish a plant store.
Huston looked only briefly at properties in Gilroy and San Juan Bautista, but ultimately, she decided it was important to find a downtown location close to her nursery. So, when a building became available on 7th street in Hollister, she decided to take a leap of faith and purchase it. Being the building is a 150-year-old home, it took every bit of fortitude she had because she knew it was going to be a money pit until the business, now called The Garden Shoppe n’ Bar, was firmly established.
Yes, that’s right. There’s a small, rather cozy bar where beer and wine, along with soft drinks, are sold. And considering the demands of obtaining an ABC license, it’s an unusual establishment to say the least. Signs inside and out delineate where the 21 and over crowd can hang out. Outside, a small white picket fence separates the plant sales area from the lounge and drinking section. If someone chooses to venture into retail sales area to possibly buy a plant or gift, they have to leave their drink behind.
Her business model and her demeanor have changed. She’s no longer angry at the local politicians, but she’s still wary of homeless individuals who sometimes linger at her front gate or congregate near the back of her property. All in all, though, she is ready for a new adventure.
“Our intent with the San Benito Street location was to set up a sales yard for our nursery because it’s difficult to have a working flower farm and sales area in the same location,” she said. “That didn’t exactly work out, so we decided to purchase this property in town and set up a plant boutique because we didn’t have enough property to set up a landscaping plant sales yard.”
She said as she was planning on the business model for a plant boutique, it morphed into something much more.
“We wanted this to be a hands-on business,” she said. “Not only is it a gift store, but we wanted to have a place where people could come and relax and put together containers if they want. The more people we talked to, the more they said they needed a place for baby showers, for wine tasting. I was struggling on how to do plant parties at other facilities in town, like the paint parties. I thought, what the heck, I’ll just turn my business into a place I can have permanent plant parties where people can come in and make their own containers, and if they want to have a glass of wine, that just adds to the atmosphere.”
She told of how hard it was to convert the 150-year-old home into a business, which was made even more difficult because it is included in the Monterey Historical District. She also had to bring it up to ADA code, but wanted to do more than just stick a ramp out front.
“We chose to put the ramp on the side [of the building], which makes it really convenient,” she said, adding, “As far as the challenge to get this place opened, we had to do a change of occupancy from residential to commercial. The construction inside and out was determined by the laws for ADA, the health department, and my beer and wine license.”
Her experience with the city was much more pleasant this time around, she said.
“They were very accommodating,” she said. “Any time we wanted to ask a question they came over here, even before I bought the property. City council people came. The Building Department, the city engineer, the Planning Department, Code Enforcement, the Health Department. Now, we’re just taking a big sigh of relief because this a much bigger project than anybody anticipated.”
She said there has already been a wine tasting event and the Rotary Club came Feb. 21. There will be a Kentucky Derby Day Party in May, and the business is already included in the Beer & Wine Stroll.
“The [Grillin & Chillin] Ale House will be here with us, partnering, and we’ll be shutting down the entire property to anyone under 21 on that day, so the whole property will be a bar,” she said. “The staff who works on the property have taken the ABC classes in order to tend the bar.”
Huston said the shop is designed for interactive activities, where classes can be held. She said she wants to promote the therapeutic aspect of working with plants.
“We don’t have TV’s like other bars,” she said. “We’re into board games and we’re all about conversations without electronics. People will come here to relax and wind down. We encourage them to bring their own food, and we can offer snacks and the bar.”
The business opens at 10 a.m. and closes “…whenever it gets dark or there’s no one here,” she said, laughing.
She said the building is available for events of all kinds. The cost is dictated by the number of people who will be taking part, ranging from $20 per hour for up to 10 people to $100 an hour for a crowd of 41 to 50. There is also a $50 cleaning deposit.
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