By Ginger DeShaney
It was a few minutes before closing time when the phone rang. It was someone looking to buy a gift for a special friend. “Yes, come in. I’ll be here,” Julio Cesar Roman told the caller.
A little before 7 p.m. on a Wednesday, Eben van der Walt walked into Micro Plant Studio. He asked Julio for plant advice. He pulled out his phone and showed Julio a photo of the gift recipient’s living room, which was full of plants. Julio knew each plant in the photo, and, noticing what she didn’t have, suggested Eben get her either a small Calathea Pinstripe or a larger monstera plant to add to her collection.
Julio asked Eben questions, told him about each plant, explained their care, and showed him the pots and stands he had available. There was easy banter between the two, laughter, a connection, a shared goal. Eben decided on the monstera plant and Julio carefully wrapped it up, making it look picture-perfect.
Eben arrived at Micro Plant Studio a stranger and left a friend.
This is a typical exchange at Julio’s store. “It’s very tailored, very personalized,” he said about the interactions he has with customers. “I walk them through it.
“I’m passionate about the work I do,” added the owner and sole employee. “This is normal for me. I connect with people in a real way, an authentic way.”
In addition to walk-in customers, people also regularly contact him on Instagram to ask questions or seek advice, and he happily provides answers and feedback.
Even though Julio runs a retail shop, “I don’t feel the need to sell the plants. They sell themselves,” he said.
Julio, who is originally from Puerto Rico and noted he is one of the few Latinos in the plant industry, knows the healing power of plants. After an unexpected surgery in 2017, he turned to plants during his recovery. He started caring for succulents and explored the propagation process (removing the leaves and starting new growth).
Julio found that caring for the plants made him happy. “The power of plants has a way of healing,” he said. “With plants, you get a sense of optimism. The color green gives a sense of hope.”
Seeing things that are growing helps people feel more optimistic, he said. Plants help ease anxiety, reduce stress, and boost mood.
Julio ended up with more than 250 plants in his art studio apartment.
By this time, Julio, a lifelong and trained artist, had spent many years working for others, in the nonprofit sector (managing, creating, and implementing youth and adult programs) and in public schools. Most of those jobs had a garden component. He knew it was time to work for himself and create his own opportunity.
“I wanted to be in a neighborhood setting; it’s important to build community,” Julio said. He found the perfect spot at 365 W. Broadway in Southie.
“Southie has been great to me and my business,” said Julio. “People have been super supportive.”
Micro Plant Studio boasts a showroom, a creative arts studio, and an online store.
Micro Plant Studio sells air plants, succulents, houseplants, holiday plants, orchids, balloons, decor, and more. Julio creates arrangements for various occasions (he delivers in his new van) and offers premade arrangements from his Grab & Go fridge.
Julio also offers community and corporate plant workshops either at the shop or on location, but these events are on hold because of Covid-19. The workshops are customized to what the participants want to do … anything from potting a plant to flower arranging to building a terrarium.
In the studio, Julio encourages people to create art, be inspired by art and nature, learn from each other, and increase their sense of community.
It’s more than just a store; Julio is offering an experience.
As a product of public education, Julio has a passion for working with youth and is always looking for ways to create opportunities for underserved youth. “Small business has an obligation to create access and a responsibility to respond to needs in the community,” he said.
To that end, Julio offers programs catered to kids, such as hosting field trips (when safe), launching a prom corsages program, and doing Mother’s Day promotions.
Julio has been rewarded for his hard work. Boston Magazine honored Micro Plant Studio with a 2020 Best of Boston designation in the home category. And he just recently received a 2020 Latinx Amplifier award, given by Amplify Latinx, whose mission is to build Latinx economic and political power by increasing Latinx civic engagement, economic opportunity and representation in leadership positions across sectors.
Follow Micro Plant Studio on Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/microplantstudio) and Instagram (@microplantstudio).