For every East Village business that’s opening or closing, dozens are quietly making it. To kick off a new series celebrating the neighborhood’s undersung heroes: Flower Power Herbs and Roots.
Lata Chettri-Kennedy calls herself a “green witch.” At Flower Power Herbs and Roots, established in 1993, she presides over a variety of natural remedies (organic herbs, roots, tinctures, flowers, and essences) that are grown in local backyard gardens, imported from India, or sourced from trusted brands like Gaia and Herb Pharm. Walk into her East Ninth Street apothecary and her apprentices – trained in holistic care – might suggest maca for sexual energy or ashwagandha for anxiety and depression. So what’s her secret for longevity? “My ex was a wonderful real estate negotiator and his negotiation of the lease is the only reason I am still open,” Ms. Chettri-Kennedy told The Local. Her rent was $1,000 in 1994; thanks to an increase of just 5 percent per year, she’s currently paying just $2,000. We asked Ms. Kennedy to tell us more about making it.
Why did you choose the East Village for your business?
I’ve lived here my whole adult life. It’s a neighborhood that relates to me. I know everybody. The original Flower Power was on Second Street between First and A. It was huge and $5,000 a month in the early 90s. Too much for me to afford. I like to say we really opened when I moved into Ninth Street because that was when we were able to feel like we could last.
Did you have a business plan when you opened?
Are you kidding me? I actually wanted to have a tea room. I opened Flower Power when I was 27 and very idealistic. I didn’t have a clue about opening a business. All I knew about was herbalism.
You have incredibly cheap rent – does that mean you’re doing well?
We are surviving. We haven’t raised our prices. Every year everyone gets a raise and the prices for everything we sell goes up, but we keep our prices the same.
My median sale is $2 so it’s not easy to make $2,000 a month plus insurance. We can do that because of the rent. It’s amazing any business can survive anywhere. I’m the only business on Ninth Street that is still here. It’s pathetic how these landlords don’t realize how important it is to keep things affordable for small businesses. It causes the community to lose it’s culture and sustenance.
What’s been your greatest boon year?
2011. Every year gets better and better. When I first opened I had to do so much teaching to people about what herbs were. A lot of time was spent educating potential customers about herbal medicine. Through educating came my future manufacturers, my apprentices who went on to make many of the products I use today.
What has been your hardest year?
2001. I count on September as a big month because the summer is slow with people out of town and then coming back to the city to get back to being healthy. After a slow summer it was hard after 9/11 to be a business below 14th Street because everything was closed. Everyone but us. It is our line of work to support the community so we were open. But the banks were closed. We stayed open all of September. We were flooded with people. We gave our herbs away because people needed them. No one had money. We almost got evicted.
How did you survive?
By November and December people were just coming on their own to pay us back. I would say 90 percent of the people who got free stuff came back and paid us. It became a totally gorgeous New York story.
What sort of renovations have gone into the place?
My shop used to be a hellhole. It was a cocaine head shop before we moved in. We had to patch up all these holes where they hid their stashes. I haven’t done a full renovation because we can’t afford it. It’s had its moments when the place has fallen apart. It’s a tenement building.
What do you think separates those who survive and make it another year from those who don’t?
You need to focus on what it is the community can benefit from. Is it actually going to make people’s lives better? Will they frequent you or will it be a fad that flies away 22 weeks later? Everything I’ve been doing for years – being green, caring about the earth – has become mainstream. I knew that it was the right thing and that people should get into it. I was also willing to spend my time educating. Now young people come in and educate me!
Where would you like your business to be in five years?
I would like the education program with our apprentices to really grow and for them to test out their knowledge on more people. We attract the cutting edge of herbal medicine experts from around the world, being located in Manhattan – people who have been through every modality of herbalism and come here to hone it. I want to see all of this continue to expand.
If you could afford it, what would you like for your business?
I would love more books, gems, minerals and crystals. We promote gems and crystals but we don’t have the space to really carry them. I would love a bigger platform for more herbalists to come. All we can afford and handle at once is 15 people. I would love to have hundreds of people come in and learn.
Flower Power Herbs and Roots, 406 East Ninth Street (First Avenue), (212) 982-6664