Business blooms for Planted in downtown Champaign

By Lillie Salas, Features Editor

From tending to peoples’ minds to caring for a variety of plants, University alumni Riley Ramirez and Kristyn McReaken have done it all. The co-owners of Planted, located in Champaign, are nearing their one-year anniversary of being first-time small business owners. 

Windows line the store, allowing sunlight to shine through. Tables filled with houseplants, succulents, cacti and different accessories sit throughout. As each customer walks in, the pair is eager to greet them with a welcoming smile. 

“I love what we do,” Ramirez said. “I love what the plants bring to people’s lives. Joy and clean air. I love what we sell.” 

Ramirez was completing her undergraduate degree in social work when she was working as a nanny for McReaken. Ramirez graduated in 2019 with her bachelor’s degree as her friendship with McReaken bloomed.

Years later, the two became close friends. One day, McReaken saw an Instagram post about a plant store owner selling their business. She sent the post to Ramirez. 

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“I was kind of like, ‘Haha, maybe,’” Ramirez said. “Then (McReaken) took a meeting and now we own a plant store.”

The store, formerly known as Plantify, became Planted. 

“We had shopped there before,” McReaken said. “I loved the store because you walked in and it was just beautiful. I had left my job. I had quit a 16-year career in the accounting field and was sort of in-between things during the pandemic.

“I was home with my kids and waiting for what’s next,” McReaken said. “What’s that next thing?” 

The pair took a leap of faith with little prior business experience and transformed the space to fit their vision. All former employees stayed throughout the transition.

Ramirez did not have extensive plant experience before contributing to the beginning of Planted. Her current roommate, Taylor Holin, said she found it impressive for Ramirez to enter a space as a business owner where she had a lot to learn.

“Interestingly enough, I always saw her doing a role that worked with other people,” Holin said. “It doesn’t surprise me, though, because she’s been really good with talking to anyone and working with anyone. Plants specifically, she never expressed any interest in doing anything like that or owning a small business. It doesn’t surprise me that she did.”

Ramirez said her background in social work has allowed her to be able to make further connections. She has built relationships with customers, vendors and other local businesses in the Champaign-Urbana community. 

Even with her social work experience, she needed to learn how to manage, identify and find long-term ways to take care of plants. 

“I’m very much a hands-on learner,” Ramirez said. “I learn best once I am in the trenches doing it. So, I feel like once we got in this position, just talking with customers, going in-person and purchasing has helped me with identification. Learning as we go but learning quickly.”

Learning to be more adaptable to sudden changes and new environments was slightly difficult while making the transition, according to Ramirez. 

Ramirez stood with a clean white T-shirt, natural makeup and polished nails behind the register of the store. She said before owning a business, she was not used to getting in the dirt. 

Learning to accept the messy aspects of owning a plant business was something she had to overcome, she said. 

“Being flexible,” Ramirez stressed. “You have to be able to adapt and pivot. That’s not always easy depending on what the subject is, but I think being able to pivot one way or the other is really important, especially in business.”

One year later, she is digging in the dirt with no fear. The co-owners said they now offer special services. This includes diagnosing unhealthy plants brought in by customers, potting plants for customers and commercial services for other local businesses. 

Ramirez’s social work degree may not have been directly related to owning a business, but McReaken’s degree has helped her greatly. 

McReaken graduated with a bachelor’s in accounting in 2003. She said the bookkeeping aspect of a business has been less difficult to manage because of her educational background. 

“I’ve worked with big data and spreadsheets, which I had to do for all of our inventory,” McReaken said. “I do all of our bookkeeping and I did our tax return. All of that accounting knowledge has been really helpful. I think a lot of people owning small businesses or in the creative space, the bookkeeping or the business side can be really overwhelming or daunting, but I already have experience.”

Along with the standard services offered, the pairs bring in vendors and offer other activities for everyone to be involved in, according to their website

In the month of April, they appeared at Boneyard Arts Festival. The co-owners hosted a “wine walk” and held a yoga class and a sound bath experience. 

According to the Cleveland Clinic, sound baths are immersive experiences where people are able to hear soothing instrumental sounds to decompress. Holin said the sound bath experiences and yoga classes are beginning to be implemented more frequently. 

The inclusion of different vendors is appreciated by Holin. She said it unites the C-U community together.

“They bring a lot of opportunities, not only for students, but for local vendors, which I appreciate,” Holin said. “It makes me learn more about the community too.” 

Planted has been in business since August of 2022. With eight months under her belt, McReaken recognized the large commitment the store has been and how managing a business has developed her relationship with Ramirez. 

“It’s like having another marriage,” McReaken said. “I’m married and I have kids. Now I’m married to another person and we have to figure (the business) out. When you’re having issues, we have to navigate through those and do the work. It’s just a whole new level to our relationship that we have had to explore. She was my employee at one time, then we were friends and now it’s this. It’s a totally different relationship.”

Their relationship has bloomed into something different, but they still remain close friends outside of work, according to the pair. 

Holin said the women’s work relationship has been successful so far. Holin has seen the way they communicate behind the scenes with constant work to do and tasks to complete.

“I feel like (McReaken is) a really good match and business partner with Riley,” Holin said. “It’s also been cool to see her switch gears at a different stage in her life and do that with Riley. I think they are a great effective pair.”

Both co-owners took a leap of faith to start Planted because they were passionate about its mission, according to Ramirez and McReaken.

Both women said they love the happiness it brings the community, as well as the uniqueness of a plant store work environment.

Planted is hosting various events throughout the rest of the upcoming year. For more information, visit their website. 

Ramirez reflected on the positive opportunities the business has given her and her gratitude toward the learning process. 

“I’m one of the fortunate few where I’m 25 and I have my own business,” Ramirez said. “I think that it’s really important. I feel really empowered just as a young adult and as a woman to be able to have that opportunity. It’s mine, it’s ours and nobody can take that away from me.” 


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