Plant Mode moved to its brick and mortar location at 75 Chester Street in September 2019. In previous years, Plant Mode owner and designer Matthis Helmick expected fewer customers during summer months when University of Illinois students left C-U. But this year has been different. After the students left this spring due to the pandemic, people working from home found Plant Mode.
Smile Politely: Tell me about the inspiration for opening Plant Mode.
Matthis Helmick: I worked at a plant shop in Chicago for ten years called Sprout Home. I wanted to be a baby Sprout Home. I was pretty happy there; I went from being a grunt worker and gardener to being a manager, buyer, and designer after five years. The job grew into a love as I got more and more into plants.
I definitely wanted to try to be as lush and green as my inspiration shop but also try to be a little low key and also bring in a lot of local products. My mom was into plants when I was growing up. We knocked the plants over when we were playing in the house and I’d re-pot them. I’m not going to say I was good at it but sometimes the re-potting job was fine or that’s what I was told.
SP: What was it like to be in your own physical space for less than a year before the pandemic hit?
Helmick: I moved to this location at 75 Chester on September 5th. I was located inside of Furniture Lounge for five years before that. It was a good partnership. My stuff went with their stuff and my clients liked to buy their stuff and I think vice versa. I worked for them a few days a week and that’s how we dealt with rent.
I walked my dog by the location where I am at now. I noticed that Rumors Hat Shop re-branded and moved to Campustown. I talked to Rebecca from Ippatsu next door. She gave me the landlady’s contact information and said, “We’d love to have you on the block; I hope it works out.”
Also, being a block from the old Champaign Black business district (1st street, between University-Washington) is special to me. I would buy records at an old Black-owned record store, and get haircuts at Banks’ Barber Shop and Rose & Taylor’s as a kid. I’m stoked to be so close to that area.
Yet, moving, I was kind of nervous. I went from paying no rent to paying rent. But it’s been okay. Christmas was really good. Usually January and February are slow but I kept it steady. Then the pandemic hit like with everything. That was a big hurdle but we’re still hanging in there.
SP: Is your physical space open to customers right now?
Helmick: Yes, we are open. Two people are allowed into the store at a time. I ask people not to touch things and everyone needs to wear a mask. I plan to do that for a while. I’ve also been selling online for about two and a half months. Now I’m doing both online and in-store and sometimes when there are a lot of orders to pack…