Riverwest has a new plant store in the works, and it’s grown into a real community effort. Nick Reuland is the owner of Riverwest Grown, (3379 N. Pierce) a new plant and home goods shops in one of the neighborhood’s quieter pockets. The shop, which primarily will sell a variety of plants and vessels, has transformed into a place where dozens of area artists and artisans can sell their plant-related wares.
The shop is expansive, and has a side yard, kitchen and bathroom space, making it a great space for events. Reuland hopes to host classes and celebrations within the spacious property. But for now, he has to wait for the Department of Neighborhood Services to approve his occupancy permit before he officially opens the shop’s doors to the public.
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Riverwest Grown is a radical DIY space. Yes, there are plants, but what makes Reuland’s shop different is how he finds his plants, how he’s upfitted his shop, what kind of art he sells and most obviously, how he creates the vessels in which he pots his plants.
His approach, which he calls bio-dadaism, makes use of the unconventional, discarded or otherwise unassuming item and turns it into a piece of live art. Like its namesake, Reuland’s work manipulates everyday products, seemingly without an overarching intention, just to reinvent the item as something that can “upend the sensibilities of the bourgeois.” And according to Reuland, Riverwest residents are eating it up.
“My work does not fly outside of Riverwest,” says Reuland. “When I tried to sell at a farmer’s market in Glendale, most of the shoppers wanted plain, beige, traditional pots for their plants. In Riverwest, the weirder the better.”
At Riverwest Grown, the pots are just as important as the plants themselves. Reuland creates vessels from all sorts of items. Pipe fittings, wood scraps, small ceramics, test tubes and other found, thrifted or donated materials. Not only are the pots second hand, most of the plants are, too.
“Neighbors and sometimes strangers bring me plants that they no longer want or can’t take care of,” says Reuland. “I propagate clippings from those plants to create hundreds more.”
Reuland’s eco-ethos doesn’t stop at the vessels and plants – just about every single item in his shop is second hand. “I made the benches out of old planks from the backyard,” says Reuland. The check-out counter is second-hand, even the paint on the walls is recycled.
“There’s a hazardous waste drop-off in Madison where people can grab things for free,” he says. “A friend of mine picked up all the green wall and spray paint they had, and I was able to use it throughout the shop.”
He hopes the shop is a way to support Riverwest, just as Riverwest has supported him. “Most of the artists who sell their work here are in the neighborhood,” he says.
He works with Tom Wilson, a local Blacksmith who makes plant hooks and hangers for the shop. Dave Wanniger creates beautiful stained-glass plant hangers. Geryn Roche makes ceramic pots and triangular hanging pots. Maya Kirchoff makes wood planters. Carol Armstrong makes garden aprons. These are only a handful of makers who have products in Riverwest Grown.
In 2020, Reuland left his job at MADACC. He had a lifetime of experience caring for and propagating plants. During lockdown, he started selling tomato plants from his front yard. According to Reuland, the support was incredible. He quickly expanded to selling at farmer’s markets and other gatherings. Business was good, and the clients kept coming back. When a friend told him about an inexpensive storefront (formerly a photography studio) in Riverwest, the idea of a brick and mortar shop began to materialize.
While it’s taking longer than he hoped, he thinks that the support of this neighborhood is enough to lead Riverwest Grown to success. “Strangers have offered to help, just because they want to,” says Reuland. “They want this business to succeed in their neighborhood.”