By Cheetara Piry
Two former Riverside City College students took advantage of its vast catalog and affordability, consequently becoming successful entrepreneurs who built an oasis in the heart of Downtown Riverside.
The latest addition to downtown’s growing number of small businesses, Meraki Plants is a female-owned indoor plant nursery that showcases thousands of lush and unique variations from jungle plants to succulents.
Savannah Leon, 21, and sister-in-law Ally Ramos, 28, opened the doors to their storefront June 19.
“We’ve been so blessed to be supported by our community,” Leon said.
Their seemingly overnight success happened almost one year ago via social media, community outreach, and practical insight learned through their time at the college.
Using their knowledge and passion for plants, they began an educational platform through Instagram that peaked in the explosion of new plant parents during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Leon and Ramos’ intentions at RCC were not necessarily to pursue business or this specific entrepreneurial venture. However, the ladies accredited their leap of faith to the opportunities the community college granted them.
“It gave me the freedom to be able to venture out because of how affordable it was,” Leon said about the college.
Leon was a nursing student who would take small business administration courses on the side. Growing up, however, she had always wanted to do something in business. Yet, she continued her education in nursing.
Her interest in biology and science ultimately led to her growing curiosity in her leisure interest, plants.
“A lot of my science professors are the ones who got me more intrigued with the whole background of plants,” Leon said.
Ramos, on the other hand, was in and out of the college for at least three years.
“I just did a little bit of everything,” Ramos said. “I never really knew what I wanted to do — I really wanted to do something that I loved.”
Ramos applied her curiosity as she participated in different classes. She’d actively looked for practical information to take with her from each experience.
For example, she tried cosmetology and recognized her instructors were also small business owners. Through them she was able to learn how to conduct herself professionally.
She took sociology but realized she had no interest in it. Then she pursued horticulture and gained an abundance of scientific knowledge that’s transferable to her now-thriving plant business.
Ramos commended the amount of resources RCC provided and wished she had asked for help sooner, after personal tragedies she almost gave up on pursuing college altogether.
“If you really want something in life, go for it,” she said. “I let a lot of things limit me — Leave that all behind. Ask questions and make friends, people are willing to help if you tell them.”
The co-owners put a pause on their education at the community college, but they used the journey of ticking off interests that did, or did not, resonate with them to take the necessary steps forward to pursue their current business venture.
“RCC is still somewhere where I want to continue my education,” Leon said, however, their business is on a positive upward momentum so they’ve decided to prioritize scaling.
Reasonably, plants have always been in these womens’ lives. Although in-laws, they originally bonded over plants. Ramos’ parents are growers while Leon’s comprehension and love of science serves well in her role as a plant nursery co-owner.
Starting a plant business may have seemed like a sure thing for them but the two toggled between the idea of beginning a plant or flower shop and in a spark of spontaneity they decided to move forward with Meraki.
“Meraki means to do everything with your soul, love and creativity, leaving a piece of yourself in everything you do,” Leon shared the meaning behind their store.
According to Leon, business is just a formula. She noticed people were generally held back by the fear of taking risks. The young entrepreneur implores individuals to pursue and explore their passions. She also emphasized the importance of surrounding yourself with supportive people.
“There’s so much that we want to pursue in life,” Leon said. “Don’t hesitate to do what your mind is telling you to do if you feel it’s right.”
On the road to opening their first storefront, they knocked on several business doors to allow them to showcase some of their plants in their shops. After being turned down a handful of times, by the fifth store, Kraemer’s Coffee allowed them to display their plants.
“You have to project an ambition of what you want to do,” Ramos said. “I am glad for those doors that didn’t open ⸺ don’t be discouraged by the no’s. Just keep on knocking.”
The storefront is located on Main Street behind the Mission Inn and in front of the Convention Center.