May 26, 2023 3:13 PM

Planting the seeds for a growing business

Posted May 26, 2023 3:13 PM
<b>Mike and Allison Park opened Pool 19 Plants and Records in downtown Fort Madison after they moved here from New York to Allison’s hometown during the COVID-19 pandemic. Photo/Chris Faulkner</b>
Mike and Allison Park opened Pool 19 Plants and Records in downtown Fort Madison after they moved here from New York to Allison’s hometown during the COVID-19 pandemic. Photo/Chris Faulkner

By Chris Faulkner

Allison Park enjoys working with house plants. Mike Park has a passion for vinyl records.

But when the couple decided to start a small business in Fort Madison, which would be the best product to market? 

What about both? The unusual pairing of plants and records made perfect sense — both are good for physical and mental health. Thus, the seeds for Pool 19 Plants and Records were planted. The name came from the portion of the Mississippi River in Fort Madison known as Pool 19.

Allison Park was born and raised in Fort Madison, but during the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, she and Mike lived in Brooklyn, N.Y.

“We moved back to be closer to family and to get a little more space,” Allison said, and that is when they thought of opening a business. “We were inspired by the places that were opening up here,” she said, noting one of the newer additions, Swed & Co. Coffee, down the street from them.

“We wanted to create kind of a place that felt welcoming,” Allison said, “and a place that maybe had some light-hearted things to enjoy.”

“Plants and records during the pandemic became something that people got really into,” Mike said.

“They’re stuck at home. They found some old records and some music, and they rekindled some old memories of what they had.”

“The same thing with plants. People needed a little green in their life. They wanted something they could take care of.”

Park said those two trends accelerated over the last two years.

“The other key point about music and plants,” Mike said, “is it connects people, and it spurs conversation. If you think about where people find common ground, it’s usually at a coffee shop, it’s at a bar.”

But nothing like Pool 19 existed, he said.

“Music cuts across political beliefs. It cuts across backgrounds, ages,” Mike said.

“The same thing with plants. A grandmother comes in here and holds up a plant and a new mother starts talking about that and what she does to take care of it. We see it all the time.”

The “aha” moment on the music side, Mike said, was when a grandmother came in, saying her high school-age granddaughter had heard some Pink Floyd music and was interested in hearing more.

When Mike found out she had not heard the “Dark Side of the Moon” album, the granddaughter was brought in and they put on the record at the listening station.

“Her eyes got wide, and that was the moment that we had been seeking for opening this store,” Mike said.

Something different

Allison’s plants are all indoor, tropical plants, the succulents.

“A lot of people are into the plants that are harder to find,” Allison said, noting among them hoyas and pink princess.

The same goes for records, Mike said.

“It’s a small shop. We have to curate,” he said. “We don’t want to carry things you can get at a Walmart. I don’t think people want something they can get at Wal-Mart. We continue to go deeper, more unique, more obscure records and plants; 1) we’re interested in that but 2) we’re finding other people are interested in that.”

Mike said that vinyl has made a resurgence in the last 10 years after a period in the 1990s and 2000s in which everything was on a CD.

But, “Vinyl sales outstripped CD sales this year,” Mike said.

He’ll carry Taylor Swift, “but we also have the latest Deerhoof album,” Mike said of an indie band that’s been around since 1994.

While the pandemic may have been the impetus of the business, for the Parks, it’s much more than that.

“You can pot a plant you just bought, and you can listen to a record on the listening station,” Mike said.

“It kind of humanizes the situation,” Allison said. 

“A lot of people understand how these two go together. We wanted this to feel like a welcoming living room.”

Pool 19 Plants and Records has added more experiences. In the back room, they have helped people build terrariums. There are macrame classes. There are plant swaps, and people can bring in records and trade for in-store credit or trade records for records.

“It’s good music and good conversation,” Allison said of their store. “You don’t have to buy anything.”

Store information

Who: Pool 19 Plants and Records

Where: 616 Seventh St., Fort Madison.

Hours: Thursday and Friday from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Saturday from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.