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Maranta Plant Shop In Historic Bronzeville Is Milwaukee's First Black & Brown-Owned Plant Store

Maranta Plant Shop
Courtesy of Maranta Plant Shop
Maranta Plant Shop co-founder Michelle Alfaro outside the brick-and-mortar store at 1739 N. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Drive in Milwaukee.

The house plant industry has boomed over the past year as people search for ways to bring joy to isolated spaces.

Michelle Alfaro and Mag Rodriguez decided to start an online pop-up store called Maranta Plant Shop as a fun experiment in September 2020. The two quickly realized they had created a successful business model that was meeting the large demand for indoor greenery in Milwaukee.

Six months later, Maranta now has a brick-and-mortar store on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Drive open 12 p.m. to 6 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday for socially distanced shopping. As a business that was started during the pandemic, Rodriguez says their focus is on the future.

“People ask like, ‘How did you guys adapt to the pandemic?,' to us it’s like we’re trying to adapt to what the world looks like after the pandemic,” he says.

With the grand opening of the store on April 14, Maranta became the first Black and brown-owned plant store in Milwaukee. Alfaro says her Afro-Latina heritage plays an important role in her connection to plants.

“When I’m taking care of my plants, I connect them very closely to my ancestors and it’s an ode to them essentially, you know, we have to keep that alive,” she says.

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Courtesy of Maranta Plant Shop
The idea for Maranta began when Alfaro's extensive plant collection drew repeated inquiries about where to buy house plants.
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Courtesy of Maranta Plant Shop
Co-founder Mag Rodriguez says the opening of the in-person store is just the beginning for Maranta.

Rodriguez explains that most of the popular house plants right now come from Central and South America, the Caribbean and Africa. He says that fact is often forgotten in house plant culture.

“For us to be the first and only Black and brown-owned plant shop in Milwaukee, one of the country’s most segregated cities, I think we’re not only paving a way for new generation of entrepreneurs but the amount of messages and comments that we receive from Black and brown folks who are like, ‘Wow you inspired me to launch my thing and do my thing.' Ultimately, we’re just trying to inspire people to take space, and space that they deserve,” he says.

Getting that space is still difficult though. Rodriguez says Maranta is in a privileged position because it was profitable from the beginning, but securing additional funding or resources like a business credit card were hard hurdles to overcome.

They both say that Maranta Plant Shop is just the beginning of their hopes for the space and what the Maranta brand can become.

“We’re really, really excited to have a home for everyone to come and, you know, share space with us,” says Alfaro.

Maayan Silver has been a reporter with WUWM’s News Team since 2018.
From 2020 to 2021, Jack was WUWM's digital intern and then digital producer.