Kay Henderson, 41, who had lived in California her whole life, where she was a successful corporate recruiter for 22 years, came to Philly on a vacation a couple of years ago and fell in love with …
Kay Henderson, 41, who had lived in California her whole life, where she was a successful corporate recruiter for 22 years, came to Philly on a vacation a couple of years ago and fell in love with the city, so much so that she moved here. Another attraction was the fact that there are so many major pharmaceutical companies in the Delaware Valley, and Kay thought that would be a fertile field for her corporate recruiting talent.
Now a Germantown resident, Kay has been pursuing her corporate career for one and a half years here, but when the pandemic hit, she was forced to rethink her priorities, as so many others have also done. “It made me face my mortality,” she said. “Who knows how long we will be around? I don't ever want to have to think about what I could have done if I had a chance to do it all over again.”
Kay grew up on a farm in California (her family also had a pecan farm in Arkansas), and the yard of her family home in Oakland grew everything from plums to apples, oranges, berries, peas, Birds of Paradise and roses, among others. And Kay always had a green thumb and a passion for plants, which was only magnified by the pandemic.
“People can be very lonely now when they are isolated,” she said. “People cannot travel, and houseplants can be a form of therapy for mental health in addition to beautifying any space. And they are good for producing oxygen. I am asthmatic and have severe allergies, and plants have helped me a lot … Now that I am an East Coaster, reconnecting with these plants is like reconnecting with my ancestors.”
One day Kay was driving down the 7900 block of Germantown Avenue when she happened to notice a “For Rent” sign at 7904 Germantown Ave., which was formerly a State Farm Insurance Co. office and before that a tailor shop and a tile store before that. (There are also apartments upstairs and behind the store.)
“I did not go on the internet looking for a place, and this was really the first and only place I looked at,” she said, “I had been selling plants online and was doing well but soon realized I needed a bigger space to store them. When I noticed the beautiful entryway and tile work and fountain here, I fell in love with the place. It was serendipitous. So I signed a one-year lease and decided to open a houseplant store here.”
As a result, on Oct. 3 Kay opened Sister Sunflower, her nickname for many years. “I was here quite a bit getting ready before the store opened, and a lot of people walked by and asked me about the store. I told them what I would be doing, and they seemed to love it. There is a good vibe on this street. After all, you might have to drive 20 or 30 minutes to find a big nursery that has plants like these.”
Kay is still working full-time from home as a corporate recruiter and rushing back and forth to the store, but she obviously cannot keep that going permanently. She ordinarily likes to kick-box, dance and brunch with friends, but for now, there is no spare time to engage in those pursuits. She hopes to gradually transition to full-time at Sister Sunflower after eight or nine more months. On weekends so far, there has been a lot of foot traffic.
Kay is so passionate about her “foster children” that she will not sell a plant if she feels the customer cannot take care of it properly. However, she will provide detailed instructions to care for each one — how to propagate, fertilize, avoid disease, etc. — and she intends to eventually teach classes in a second room that will also house a potting station. “I consider these plants my foster kids,” she explained. “They have to be loved, not abused. They are not disposable; they are family. I will teach you how to maximize light, for example, and even send you home with a light meter. It would not make sense to sell you a $100 plant if it is going to die in six months.” (Most of her plants cost between $8 and $40.)
For now, Sister Sunflower is open Friday through Monday, 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. For more information, call 215-648-3993 or visit sistersunflower.com. Len Lear can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org