In their own words, Harry March and his daughter Stephanie Peterson have “lived weird lives.”
The father-daughter team runs Native Gardens, a plant nursery and gift shop in Green Valley, and fill the shop with more than succulents and flowers.
It’s a curation of their trips to other countries, exploring the art of indigenous workers and fair trade makers.
They carry items like jewelry from Peru made of butterfly wings and sterling silver, art made from telephone wire or fair trade bags made in Cambodia, and they know the people and stories behind them.
“He likes finding unique, indigenous tribal art, so things you can’t find anywhere else,” Peterson said.
Green Valley Books, a long-standing book store attached to their shop, closed when owner Mark Sychowski passed away in February.
Left behind was what they thought were about 40,000 books. During the boxing and sorting process over the last few weeks, it’s closer to 100,000.
“You could barely walk in and move around in here,” March said. “There’s probably 100 columns of those book shelves. This will be the third or fourth load of boxes.”
The books have been sold to someone who is in the middle of clearing out the space. Once it’s done, the wall is coming down and Native Gardens is growing.
A little history
Green Valley Books was opened by Barbara Holder around 1989 in Continental Shopping Plaza as Second Look Books. It was later purchased by Anne Sychowski and renamed.
March said once Sychowski passed away, her son Mark took over the business and moved it to its current location on La Canada just north of Esperanza Boulevard 12 to 15 years ago.
“And, then I came along and I rented from Mark,” he said. “I just rented the dirt outside for a little nursery, rented from him about seven or eight years and then I bought the building and have been expanding ever since.”
March won the Town of Sahuarita’s BizEdge Shark Tank program in 2018, and the training provided was key in him purchasing the building. He also won $4,000, which went toward the purchase.
Hundreds of books
Sychowski’s family lives in Chicago and his brother Craig decided to come down a couple days to liquidate everything inside.
A couple found the ad on Facebook Marketplace and put in their offer for the books.
“We were worried about what are we going to do with these books. It was huge,” March said. “I put him (the buyer) in touch with four high schoolers who have been helping him move everything out. It’s probably going to take a month.”
There are still dozens of boxes inside the space and even more piles of books which will be sold in the purchaser’s online store, with some of the items getting donated to charity stores like Goodwill or Casa de los Ninos.
March said they will be tearing down the wall between the two stores and will fill the extra room with rustic furniture, decor and indigenous art from around the globe.
They already have a focus on bringing unique items into their shop.
“We have already expanded and we have a whole bunch of fair trade items from all over the world,” Peterson said. “We have 16 different fair trade suppliers in the store right now.”
They will travel to Mexico next month on a buying trip for the store.
Peterson said “our experience lends us well to what we’re trying to do here.”
She used to work for Tres Amigos, an Arizona furniture store that had locations in Phoenix and Tucson before they started closing stores in 2007.
The pair are also both travelers. March spent a lot of time in Mexico, including living on a sailboat and working with the Huichol Indians, a tribe known for its beadwork, for more than a decade.
“I stayed down there about two years on the sailboat,” he said. “It took me that long to set up the Huichol connection because our cultures are so far removed from each other.”
They are going to feature artwork from indigenous artists in their new space like a gallery, including photos of the makers at work.
“We’re going to do, more or less, museum type areas that people won’t see anywhere else in southern Arizona, or in Arizona period,” March said. “It’s probably stuff people won’t want to buy much because it’s so weird but we are trying to give the people an experience.”
The pair are hopeful to open up the new side of the shop with a mix of “museum” art and rustic furniture and decor items in September or October.
Peterson said their ability to find unique pieces comes from a combination of both their experiences, people they’ve met and places they’ve been.
“We have weird experiences,” March said. “She’s had probably more than me.”
“I don’t know about that,” Peterson laughed. “We are going to try to find really unique things as well as the tile-top tables that everyone wants and ethical furniture, gifts, home decor, jewelry. I think it will make a real function of the space and make it really pretty.”