Shop for houseplants, pots and gifts at Vida Plants in Long Beach

This is the latest in a series we call Plant PPL, where we interview people of color in the plant world. If you have any suggestions for PPL to be included in our series, tag us on Instagram @latimesplants.

Is it possible to turn what you love into what you do?

After years of struggling with burnout while working long hours as a producer, Sasha Pace was ready to give it a try.

In September, after hosting bi-monthly plant pop-ups on her apartment patio, Pace took a leap of faith and opened the Vida Plant Shop in a tiny showroom in downtown Long Beach.

Measuring just 170 square meters, the sun-drenched showroom feels like a cross between your favorite plant shop and a neighborhood gift shop with several different plant varieties – Monstera, Peperomia, Aglaonema and Fiddle leaf figs – and small series goods from the region.

The shelves feature handmade accessories by local artists, women and people of color, including plant holders by Little Feral, custom ceramic pots by Long Beach ceramicist Beth Bowman, tiny pots by Long Beach-based Sara Pilchman Ceramics, and eco-friendly candles by Moco and Roen.

Pace, 33, was born to a Puerto Rican mother and a Black father who encouraged her to embrace both cultures.

“When people look at me, they don’t know what my nationality is,” she says. “It makes it difficult for me. Especially with the cultural shift that has taken place. Sometimes it feels like people want me to claim a thing or two, but that’s unfair. I identify with being equal parts Puerto Rican and black. I want to represent both cultures.”

For Pace, selling goods from various artist groups is part of her motivation as a businesswoman. “I have soaps from Wato Soap, a Japanese and black artist. I also sell hand rolled incense sticks from a company called Incausa that employs indigenous artisans in Peru. When I host events, all the vendors I invite are people of colour. I plan to feature more color artists in the shop. That’s really important to me.”

Like the tropical plants dancing around her showroom, Pace can’t wait for her plant shop to grow.

“I wanted to start small,” she says. “But I hope to have a bigger space one day. I feel a desire and a responsibility to get involved in my neighborhood as much as possible.”

I caught up with Pace to talk about her journey from advertising to plant shop owner and the classic marketing campaign she ran on the journey to opening her first retail store.

Three shelves filled with indoor plants in pots

Various plants are for sale at Sasha Pace’s Vida Plant Shop plant studio.

(Dania Maxwell / Los Angeles Times)

What inspired you to open a plant shop?

My background is in advertising. I have produced commercials for some big brands and advertising agencies. It’s a very stressful, stressful job with absolutely no work-life balance. I worked 60 hours a week and felt like I was working all the time. I suffered from severe burnout and felt unfulfilled.

Plants became my form of self-care and a healthy way for me to slow down. When I asked them if they needed water or sunlight, it was a way for me to connect to the present moment instead of sitting at my phone or computer all the time.

How did you make the leap from advertising to plant retailer?

I’ve been freelancing during the pandemic but have been unemployed for much of the time. I loved plants so much and had about 50 plants in my Long Beach condo. So I opened up the side patio of my apartment and opened a pop-up plant shop twice a month. I put up old-fashioned, handwritten “plant sale” signs on a busy corner and it worked! People stood on plants during the pandemic and so many people showed up. I was shocked and touched.

It was a wonderful way to meet my neighbors and connect with people after being isolated for so long. It started, so I wanted to see if I could do it full time, be happy, and make a living. I saved as much money as I could, quit my job and opened Vida on September 4th. It’s only been 4½ months but I love it. It’s scary, but I don’t regret opening the shop. I hope it works.

It’s a big leap.

Its scary. I’m a one woman show and I’m self funded. I have no employees and do everything myself. I pick all plants from local independent nurseries. I always want to have the prettiest, healthiest, most lush plants in different colors and patterns so that I have a nice variety of plants for people to pick.

My brother and my mother took care of the store for me when I was ill. But Long Beach feels like a good neighborhood for it, and I wanted to start slow and grow. I feel a sense of community here that makes it special. In LA, where people are all transplants, you don’t feel that. People really want to come out and support local mom and pop shops.

Exterior of the Vida plant shop

Vida Plant Shop in downtown Long Beach.

(Dania Maxwell / Los Angeles Times)

It’s wonderful how supportive the plant community is in Long Beach. We’re not competitive and we cheer each other on. Dynelly [del Valle of Pippi+Lola] was one of the first people in the plant community to welcome me here. Foliage LB also came and introduced themselves and sent their support. Courtney Warwick from Black Girl Green Thumb came and took some pictures and reposted them on her social media and I was so touched by it. There is no competition or jealousy, just lots of support and encouragement. It makes me emotional. I am so thankful for the support. Most of the time I feel like I don’t know what I’m doing.

Speaking of Dynelly, when I interviewed her, she joked that it took her 15 years to meet another Puerto Rican in Los Angeles. Is this your experience?

[Laughs.] I haven’t met many Puerto Ricans who grew up in the San Fernando Valley. My mom always honks and waves when she sees someone driving with a Puerto Rico flag sticker on the back of their car.

Sasha Pace keeps a green plant with large leaves and waxy pink flowers

Sasha Pace poses for a portrait with an anthurium, her favorite plant.

(Dania Maxwell / Los Angeles Times)

Puerto Rico is such a lush place. Has it influenced your love of plants?

I would definitely say that traveling to Puerto Rico has influenced my love of plants over the years. One plant that reminds me of my culture is aloe vera. When I was growing up, my grandmother showed me how to use the plant as a mask. She would scrape the pulp and put it in a tonic. It was a way of being associated with plants and using them in ways other than decoration. Cultural knowledge and traditions are so important.

Your family sounds supportive.

You are so proud. I am the first person in my family to own my own business. My aunt told me that I am furthering our family’s legacy and that I am a role model for my younger cousins.

For the grand opening we threw a party, played music, lit sage and made good resolutions for the store. My grandmother prayed about it in Spanish. My family is infused into this space.

The name Vida must have a meaning?

I thought it was important to name the store Vida because vida means life in Spanish and plants and nature are life. It’s definitely part of my culture. I was proud to name my shop after a Spanish word.

How would you describe the atmosphere of the store?

Calm. It’s welcoming and bright and refreshing. I play my music and light my incense. I love all kinds of music. This is something I would like to expand on in the future. I would like to collaborate with artists and invite local DJs to create a plant playlist inspired by nature or the seasons.

Two hands hold a waxy green plant with pink leaves

Sasha Pace holds an anthurium, her favorite plant.

(Dania Maxwell/Los Angeles Times)

favorite plant?

If I had to pick one, I would have to pick the anthurium. The flowers are so colorful and vibrant and have something sexual about them. They are waxy and wet.

What are your dreams for the future?

I hope to one day have a bigger space so I can host more workshops and events. I’d love to host plant-based dinners, art shows, and botanical dye shops. I want to do things that bring people together. Shop for houseplants, pots and gifts at Vida Plants in Long Beach

Russell Falcon

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