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Plant hobby blooms into successful business for former CLC student

by Public Relations and Marketing | Published Feb 17, 2022

Former College of Lake County (CLC) student Natalia Garcia used to experience anxiety attacks and she wasn’t sure what was causing them. When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, she was worried she might get them more often when she was stuck at home. She decided to start taking care of plants with the thought that if she could take care of them, she could begin to better care for herself, too. 

Natalia Garcia working with a plantThis newfound interest quickly blossomed when Garcia started her own plant shop from home called Plant House with her husband Luis. They eventually opened their own storefront in Waukegan last November. 

“I just wanted to focus on something,” she said. “I kept learning more about plants, and all of a sudden I was buying humidifiers and I had all of this stuff to make them good and happy.” 

After attending high school, Garcia started at CLC in 2005. It was the most affordable option, and since she was here on Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), she couldn’t receive federal financial aid. 

She began studying business, but eventually switched to graphic design to better fit her skill set. She always had an interest in photography, which she uses to help promote her business on social media. 

At CLC, Garcia became involved with the Latino Alliance where she got a lot of help and support. She received a scholarship from them, helping cover half of a semester. 

Someone Garcia made a strong connection with during her time at CLC was Latinx Student Outreach and Programs Coordinator Rodolfo Ruiz-Velasco. She has stayed connected with him and even invited him to her business grand opening. She considers him her mentor, and when she needs help, she reaches out to him. 

“Natalia and her husband Luis were student leaders during their time at CLC,” Ruiz-Velasco said. “She is great at connecting with other students and the community. I am so happy she is applying what she learned in her classes and at Latino Alliance Club.” 

Unfortunately, Garcia couldn’t continue her journey at CLC because of financial constraints within her family. 

Garcia went on to work a few jobs following her time at CLC. At her last job, when her DACA expired, she had to stop working while she reapplied. However, Garcia didn’t want to go back to the job because she didn’t enjoy working it. 

Garcia’s friends and coworkers had always told her she should sell flowers, and now in need of a new job, she decided it was the right time to try. 

Garcia started with a pop-up shop last Mother’s Day weekend at a local grocery store in Waukegan, and after it was successful, she continued working pop-ups and farmers’ markets, running her business from home.  

The plan was to open a storefront in the spring of 2022, but because of how quickly her business grew, Garcia needed space for all her plants and products sooner.  

“I realized there was a plant community that needed a place to hang out, a place to go,” she said. “I have customers who come every weekend. Sometimes they just come in and hang out.” 

The success of her business is no surprise to Ruiz-Velasco. 

“I remember Natalia always had an entrepreneurial spirit,” he said. “During our annual fundraising Valentine's Day Rose Sale, we always sold out in record time due to her leadership.” 

On Jan. 20, Garcia and her husband met with Illinois Small Business Development & International Trade Center (SBDC) Manager Mitch Bienvenue to get connected to people who can help her business continue to thrive. 

Some of the connections provided include Illinois DCEO’s Office of Minority Economic Empowerment, the Lake County Community Foundation for grant programs for minority small businesses and referrals to two other SBDC advisors who can help with marketing and business financial projections. 

“Plant House is exactly the kind of businesses the SBDC loves to work with,” Bienvenue said, “Small, local and hungry for growth opportunities. We are thrilled to be able to connect entrepreneurs like Natalia to small business support resources available at county, state and federal levels and hope to be a long-term partner in her success.” 

The SBDC provides no cost, confidential business advising and low-cost, interactive workshops for small businesses in Lake County. 

About College of Lake County

College of Lake County is a comprehensive community college committed to equitable high-quality education, cultural enrichment and partnerships to advance the diverse communities it serves in northeastern Illinois. Offered at three campuses in Grayslake, Vernon Hills and Waukegan or online, college classes are affordable and accessible to help each student achieve academic, career and personal goals. More than 70,000 students graduated with degrees and certificates since the college opened in 1969. College of Lake County is the only higher-education institution ranked among the top 15 best places to work in Illinois by Forbes and is a national leader in many areas, including sustainability and conservation.