We spoke with Ka to learn more about what makes the shop unique and what the co-owners are focusing on after running a small business in the midst of a pandemic.
Westword: How would you describe your business?
Maurice Ka: We are a living botanical and apothecary goods shop, most famously known for houseplants, and our whole apothecary, our botanical products, teas. We make blends and bath salts based on both of our spiritual backgrounds. We support people in their spiritual practices, grounding and clearing energies. Looking at the journey that everyone has been on since 2020, we really focus on independent makers with a botanical lens with how they make things. Most of our products are nature-centered. The art [and] body products — internal and external — are about living botanicals. A lot of plants can show up in many different types of products. You can see I get lost in the passion of the store!
When and how did you become a partner in the business?
I was a maker in the store in the earlier days of Rosehouse; I used to make body products inspired by when I was in yoga teacher training, and I was there selling in the store, and that was an organic way toward building a relationship that led me to being a collaborative partner. As someone making products, we’d talk about what’s selling, what’s not, and a friendship began. Doing creative things in the store was the entry point for me, and in 2019 the murmur of plants having a “moment” had started. Since I have a background with the arts community and organizing, I started putting together “after dark” events to bridge the nighttime vibe on South Broadway, playing great music, bringing in tarot, and that was my first project in the space. We wanted to introduce the people from the nightlife scene on Broadway to the daytime shopping experience.
How does your background in the arts influence your curations in the shop?
Many years ago, I was a part of the Pan-African film festival, I did private parties, I am a spoken-word poet, and I am still tied to those communities. I’m always bringing people together from different sectors, and that bleeds into the store. People like the energy of walking into the store — we create a vibe, an atmosphere that embraces aroma, scented products and the plants themselves. … It is all about the richness of nature and the plant world.
What are the most common questions people ask in the shop?
Will this plant grow? Is it gonna get bigger? How big does it get? The answer is: Yes, they’re all gonna grow. The hard part is that much like people, plants do whatever they want, and over time, there’s no limitation on how many leaves it can get. When you’re designing your space, you don’t want it to be four times the size, but if [the plants] like you enough, they’re gonna stretch out their legs and move in, so there’s no telling. We have plants that have no business being as big as they are in our shop. They’re beings, animals, and they’re gonna spread out. How long you have it depends on how well you take care of it and if it likes you. [Customers also] always ask, “What is that amazing smell in the store right now?” Sometimes I honestly don’t know. We have incense in the store that smells amazing, but we also have some great scented products. A candle scent might mix with body oils, herbs for a custom tea blend, and a jasmine might be in bloom. I can tell you they’re all mixing together — that’s what I can tell you.
What makes Rosehouse different from other plant shops?
There are lots of layers to the store. Someone might come in looking for houseplants, cactus, tropicals, and in the same space, at the same time in the back, our herbalist is making custom blends, and on Sundays there might be tarot readers and mediums in the store, [or there] could be a class going on. All of it is happening simultaneously. Denver has a rich history of apothecaries, and my co-collaborator, Kristin, is an herbalist and educator and has been a part of Apothecary Tinctura, Denver’s go-to herb shop for 22 years. Denver has really cool plant stores happening in the city, in the culture, and there is such a wide variety. Like coffee shops, everyone has the one they love. We just had a class about collective healing through art by doing collage. There are so many ways to experience the store — you might be there to get herbal remedies, custom teas, herbs for body products, or stocking up on spiritual supplies, and those who just want plants.
What are the values of the business?
We are committed to carrying lots of brands that are independent and small businesses, and supporting other small businesses wherever we can. We definitely have products you’re not gonna find in your big box stores. We intentionally make sure we are contemporary in supporting contemporary conversations, being unapologetic in our diverse space. Our makers represent a lot of identities, those who are very queer-forward, some from the African diaspora, Indigenous creators — we don’t shy away from those conversations around identity and how we as people and as a business support that. We are passionate about local makers in our store. No matter why you’re there, we have local folks for all of those layers, and we are blessed to be hosting that creative intelligence in Denver and rallying around it. People can come in and have representation, medicines, ceremonies, things that speak to their traditions, and they can easily walk in and see supplies, ritual items, living or dried. We want folks to feel comfortable asking, and we can usually point them in the right direction. I don’t know of a lot of spaces where there is opportunity for that to happen, and I’m happy that people can come in and be relieved that they found it in the store, and it’s something familiar to them, and it was responsive to their needs and the people who live in the city.
Sage has been a challenging topic for many in the spiritual community. Can you give us your perspective?
We sell a few herbs that people can use for smudging, which is something every culture does all over the world in different traditions. When it comes to white sage, we’ve elected to respect the conversations that are happening with cultural integrity and over-harvesting. For us, out of respect, and the movements we’ve seen, we decided not to sell. There are a lot of great alternatives depending on why you are coming for that, and we can offer complementary plants. Sometimes they say sage when they actually mean sacred smoke. Rosehouse is a space to have that conversation, too. Small businesses make great spaces to have those conversations and have moments of clarity and hard discussions. I like having these moments in the store, that you can have with somebody, rather than sending to a large corporation that may never see it.
What are some of the challenges of having a small business that most folks don’t know about?
Plants are living things, and as much as I’d want every single plant to be available every day of the week, in every size at all times…the reality is that is not how the industry works. Some things are seasonal; there are hurricanes and things in other parts of the world that make things harder to get. That’s out of our control; that’s also what makes things kind of special. Over the past few years, we know availability is one thing that has been hard, and we go through the same challenges as every individual goes through, because your day-to-day needs are the same. We’re not some life form that is separate from those experiences.
We are also existing in a vastly, drastically changing city — what our neighborhoods look like, the new people who come, the people we love who no longer come, and the negotiations between the two. … The past few years, people have said there are problems around consistency, things taking longer, shortages, things being rare that weren’t rare. I heard someone say, ‘It’s a time for us all to be more understanding,’ and we’ve seen other small businesses that are no longer here, or change the way they’re here. I’m also excited about this time where I’ve seen a lot of artists and makers who haven’t been as available now collaborating, and the things happening in the space that we weren’t able to see in the past couple of years inspired artists to show up. That necessity made them show up. With Broadway being fascinating, rich, multi-textured, ever-expanding and renewing its identity, it can be really challenging making sure we’re in great communion with our neighbors and customers. And that’s the fun part of being in the city — that creative pulse and energy.
How do you want people to feel in your business?
I like hearing that we’re a “vibe” — and I am a Pisces, so I want to know what that is all about. We want it to be a space you come in and relax. We want to give you a restorative element, a spirit of restoration, not just because of the plants and the air quality. We are a place where anyone can come in, whether they know a ton about plants or if they’re somebody who is curious and nervous and trying to find their first plant — if they’re even someone who wants a plant. Plants, herbs or products they can touch and smell and feel comfortable finding themself and their way in. For folks looking for plants and their journey with herbs, we want you to turn off your brain and just feel. What energy are you feeling? What’s exciting to you texturally, visually, from a more heart-centered space? Get away from the rush and demands of the past three years. We also provide space for emotional things, when we have great conversations. We are not a space that’s led by the analytical part of our brain — we’re about the heart. We strive for a high emotional intelligence, and we like that someone who works in the neighborhood comes in and just wants to take a deep breath.
What is a small-business achievement you’re really proud of?
That we made it through the pandemic, and that’s because of people. In the beginning, we didn’t know what a pandemic was, and we’re still here because of the community, those who get excited about what we do, and they made sure we’re still around. We did plant delivery boxes, selling out right away, and people were looking forward to them. We figured out how to hold the space; the community made sure to support the how, which allowed us to be responsive. Why should people support small businesses? Small business is a reflection of neighborhoods and the community. Small businesses are in a position to respond to individuals, which is challenging but beautiful, and makes us more accessible to meet those individual needs.
What is your favorite product/service/class that you provide?
I got to do a class on spiritual baths and daily practices for emotional spiritual well-being, from Black southern and Afro-Caribbean traditions. Part two will be in November. Small business is in a space to say yes. I hadn’t taught a class since before the pandemic, and now I remember that I love teaching classes. I was so focused on holding down the space, but this class was overly attended, and we had to take in more people than we had before. I am excited to step more into teacher space and the return of classes. I also really love the bath salts that Kristin and I collaborated on. It is a set of three bath salts that were created out of conversations about herbs that are important to both of our northern European and African traditions, and we dialogue about how people use plants. … That’s the fun stuff outside of inventorying, ordering and calling vendors.
What are some of your favorite small businesses to support in Denver?
Alchemy Ritual Goods is a metaphysical store that has spiritual supplies, and they were founded by people I know from the arts community as a young person, and I love that space because I watched it grow. Cosmic Tea Holistic Shop, has a bunch of really fun psychics — very cool, down-to-earth people who do great work. Ti Cafe down the street is cute; the owners and staff are really great and fly, and it’s totally the treat yo’ self [with] the coffee, with the flan…
Rosehouse Botanicals, 14 South Broadway, rosehousebotanicals.com.