Updated: Sep 8, 2021
Plants are all the rage. Nowadays, being a plant parent is like telling someone you have
your shit together without actually telling them you have your shit together. You’ve essentially unlocked a new level of adulthood, except this level isn’t soul-crushing (cries). Well, late last summer I took a look around my space and realized I needed more greenery.
Lucky for me, a new plant shop had just opened: Semillas in the Pilsen neighborhood. Why did I want to go to this plant shop specifically? Semillas is Latina-owned. Its creation was borne from a love of plants but also a need to fill a void. Where are all the plant shops on the Southside of Chicago? Where in Pilsen? In an interview with Pilar McQuirter, Angélike Verla, owner of Semillas, explains that she didn’t understand why she needed to travel to the north side to buy plants when there really should be a shop in Pilsen:
“Why do I have to always travel to the north side to get these plants? "Why don't we have this on the Southside? Mexicans know about plants and herbs too… Why can't we have that here? Community gardening is very common, it’s what makes Pilsen, Pilsen.”*
Angélika was able to open a business centered around her love for plants and offer her community something new. But perhaps most importantly, Semillas represents a reclamation of territory. After the construction of the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) in the 1960s, thousands of Mexican immigrants were displaced from their homes and ultimately moved to the Pilsen neighborhood. That first wave would set the pace for the next few decades as the Mexican community grew and flourished there. Sadly, however, in recent years city developers have taken what they can, driving rent prices up and current residents out. Between 2000 and 2017, 14,000 Mexican-Americans left Pilsen, signaling the threat of a new great displacement.
Did I know all this history as I stepped inside the plant studio that Sunday afternoon? No, regrettably not. But I had a feeling that there was something special here. I mean, Semillas opened during the Covid-19 pandemic. What a risk that was to open a brand new business when so many were shutting down for good. Surely they knew that plant shops were not essential businesses. But again, I wasn’t really thinking about all of this when I got there. Instead, my attention was drawn to the liveliness of the neighborhood. On the corner of 18th and Blue Island, the Pilsen Community Market was in full swing. Restaurants were open and the smell of tacos from food trucks filled the air.
As I walked inside, I understood the fascination. In a relatively small space, it felt like I was transported to a little safe haven. There was a wide selection of different plants of different sizes and species. Those who wanted a low-maintenance cactus had their fair share to choose from. Those who wanted a more involved plant, you know, the kind that ultimately becomes as needy as a small child, had plenty of choices too. With so many options, I spent what felt like forever browsing the shelves. Sometime later, with a red aglaonema and a new pretty pot in hand, the mission became an extreme success.
At the time I visited, Semillas was located at 1425 W 18th St, Chicago, IL. However, At the end of June 2021, they announced on Instagram that they were leaving their brick-and-mortar location. Since then, they have appeared at multiple pop-up sites around the city. Though they may have moved from their original spot in Pilsen, I’m excited to see how their journey unfolds. Follow them on Instagram @semillasplantstudio to find out where they will be next.
*This quote was captured from the Semillas website (https://semillasplantstudio.com/) before it was locked from public viewing.