Albany resident, Sara Chonaiew, and her husband, Patrick, dreamed up a business idea years back in their home state of Indiana. Their plan was to have a store that specialized in local and sustainable agricultural products for city dwellers. After moving to Oregon in 2014, their business dreams finally started to take root.
In July, the couple opened Urban Ag Supply in a small space in downtown Albany, where they sell everything from soil amendments to hydroponic supplies, and books with an ecological tilt. Selling only local and environmentally friendly products, the purpose of the store, according to Sara, is to be a “community garden hub” for Albany and the surrounding area.
Perusing the shelves, there are bags and bottles with funny-sounding names like “diatomaceous earth and nectar of the gods.” There are, of course, supplies for emerging urban farmers, backyard chicken handlers, beekeepers, urban plot gardeners, and hobby farmers. They’ve even garnered some small business from pot harvesters, possibly because of their assortment of grow lamps.
Gifts abound at Urban Ag Supply for the holidays, or for any time of year. The store focuses exclusively on small, handcrafted products and locally made artwork. Shoppers can browse a healthy collection of instructional books, selected per customer requests on the company’s Facebook page, that span the topics of urban agriculture and ecologically conscious living.
Sara explains that they’ve always had an interest in supporting local businesses, the farmers market, and handmade goods. The shop was an opportunity to offer these products to the public. Most importantly, they wanted to bring back the “joy of going to work.”
Sara, Patrick, and their 20-year-old son, Nick, all take turns tending the shop. They recently bought a house down the street, and can now walk easily to and from work.
Over the summer, the couple signed a lease with R&R Enterprises to rent and renovate their small space. Located along Ellsworth Street – one of the two main drags running through downtown Albany – the store has huge visibility in an area that has seen a recent resurgence in small shops.
Running a small, locally owned store is not an easy task. Brick and mortar stores rely on foot traffic and visibility.
Events sponsored by the Albany Downtown Association can help bring people to downtown. The soon-to-be-completed streetscape improvements might also lend a hand. But mainly, the Chonaiew family and their business rely on people that are proactive when it comes to shopping locally.
Sara and Patrick are not too worried about online shopping dipping into their sales figures. Instead, they look forward to the influx of business activity and new residents that have come to Albany in recent years.
More than a store, the Chonaiew’s hope to turn their business into an educational venue. They’re busy planning outreach classes for the spring, possibly taught by volunteer Master Gardeners or County Extension workers. Some classes may be offered for free, while others might charge a small fee.
For now, pay the family a visit in downtown Albany, and consider investing in their dream of more sustainable, locally-focused urbanization and agriculture.
Urban Ag Supply is located at 124 SW Ellsworth Street in Albany, Oregon. Opening hours are Tuesday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Visit them online at urbanagsupply.com or reach them by phone at 541-497-2988.
By Chris McDowell