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In the big bustling city far from the wild meadows of the countryside or the ferns of the forest, there is a place where medicine based upon ancient plant knowledge is available, and out of a cute storefront to boot. For that and organically cultivated herbs, roots, flowers and seeds, loose and in bulk, one need look no further than Flower Power at 406 East 9th Street, between 1st Avenue and Avenue A, our August Business of the Month.
The cozy ambiance is as you would expect, including patched wooden floors, dried bundles of plants and branches hanging from the ceiling, and a light sweet earthy smell. There is an entire wall of glass jars labeled and filled with herbs, serviced by a rolling library ladder to provide access to the floor-to-ceiling arrangement hosting everything from Ashwaganda to Yerba Santa leaves. They carry an array of bath scrubs, incense, flower essences, oils salves and Henna products. They also have a well curated section of books for sale.
Though proprietor Lata Chettri-Kennedy is a long-time local resident, it could take her an hour to walk to work with all the stops along the way from people asking questions about her well-being or just saying hi (unless she wears a hat and dark glasses, that is). She opened Flower Power here in 1994, on the ground floor of a 1903 tenement.
Of Indian origin and hailing from a family of doctors, Lata experienced first-hand the healing powers of herbalism. As a child she suffered from an uncured illness, was poked and prodded in hospitals, and nothing worked. Eventually she started reading on her own and almost magically found that dandelion and red clover, which also happen to grow almost anywhere, could help transform her to a healthy state.
Lata traveled to various Rainbow Gatherings where she encountered and learned from many herbalists, and made contacts with farmers and wildcrafters. At that time there were only two schools to study such things, one in Canada and one in Oregon. She went on to study with renowned leaders in the field. With help from her sister, she opened the East Village shop over 22 years ago. She worked for a time at the long since-closed Anjelica’s Herbs, and placed her own shop in the context of an East Village nexus of wellness with Commodities Natural Market on First Avenue and Prana, now both also long closed.
Flower Power is strongly supported by the local community, but is also destination for people from all five boroughs and all across the world. Every demographic comes into the store, according to Lata, because every culture and ethnicity has its plant medicine and culture. Anna Bardas, an apprentice there, said the exchange works both ways, as people from all different backgrounds share about their own experience or their grandparents’ experience with different plants. Celebrities and the homeless are treated with the same respect.
Over the years the herbs at Flower Power haven’t changed much, and neither have the reasonable prices. They do host more classes, and a number of their former apprentices have gone on to do great things. The shop now carries a number of items grown or made by people that apprenticed at the shop, like elixirs from Pine Cone Apothecary. Anna stated the obvious in that the success of the shop all comes down to Lata and how she is a rock and has afforded myriad opportunities for people to learn and blossom in the field of herbalism. Lata herself demured and said that the people that work with her have all been “the cream of the crop”. She then grabbed a small poster hanging on the shop wall of photos of faces and went on to tout the skills and success of half a dozen people formerly there, now growing and teaching in Brazil, Italy, or farming in upstate NY, or working in New Orleans after Katrina or in Belize learning about “midwifery in the bush”.
A change over the years that Lata noted is the long overdue surge in interest in green and ecological way of life. “It is a beautiful thing,” she said in front of a basket of free pins drawing attention to the issue of fracking and Standing Rock. In addition, nowadays customers come in more knowledgeable than before the internet; they know what they want, and why. There are also more organic growers from which to chose now, from Vermont to calendula from a local rooftop.
Lata was kind enough to be interviewed before the store opened, which is at 12 noon everyday. People were waiting outside for the gates to roll up, a common occurrence from her dedicated clientele. So don’t wait to check out Flower Power, our August Business of the Month.
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And here is a handy map of all of our Businesses of the Month: