Austentatious finds creative way to GRO
Partnership Quickly Results in Joint Business Success
April 28, 2023 — As soon as someone steps foot in Austentatious, they’re greeted by pleasant aromatics from the body care items adorning the neatly lined white shelves.
Overhead, trendy music plays over the speakers, giving off a quality of something more akin to a modern fashion design space. The store’s jewelry and other decor are also forward in quality, unlike anything else in Florence.
Austentatious, owned and operated by accomplished retailer, Jeremy Austen, now partners with a new business, GRO (started by Emily Van Weerdhuizen) to bring Florence a more diverse retail experience.
Austen has lived in Florence for 32 years and worked in retail for over two decades. He began his career as a merchandiser at a retail store named Treasures by the Bay, eventually leading to the purchase of it.
During his first year as the new owner in 2004, he rebranded the business exclusively into a toy store and named it Funky Monkey Toys. That year, Austen was recognized by Playthings Magazine, the premier trade magazine of the American toy industry, for Best Original Merchandising.
Funky Monkey Toys was open for nearly 15 years, but as the pandemic drove up costs and reduced foot traffic, Austen decided to take a hiatus from retail.
Biding his time by working in the restaurant industry, he figured out his next move. Two years later, Austentatious was born.
“As a queer business owner, I wanted to make an inviting and safe space for people…especially young people or queer kids and adults…because I really needed that growing up and I found it in places like Silver Linings Boutique and Treasures by the Bay,” Austen says.
Austentatious is more than just a retail space though. Toward the back of the building, Austen hosts an art gallery, which was voted Best Gallery in 2022 by the Siuslaw News. His last event, which premiered April 22 featured eight artists and is the first multi-artist show he’s hosted.
Despite the successful facets of his business, Austen felt ready to revitalize the retail experience he was offering. That’s when he decided to partner with GRO, the plant business started by Emily Van Weerdhuizen.
“GRO aims to nurture the plant people in Florence,” says Van Weerdhuizen.
Austen met Van Weerdhuizen during one of her first outings in Florence. As a new resident, she stepped into Austentatious in search of a birthday present to treat herself. The look and feel of the store along with Austen stayed in her mind.
One year later, she asked Austen if he’d be willing to host a pop-up plant sale. Austen took it one step further and offered her retail space of her own. Things happened quickly from there and what was Austen’s former office quickly converted into a small plant shop.
“We offer importing of specialized plants [and] more rare and exotic plants…But we also have low-light and low maintenance…so we have something for everyone here…If it’s not already in the shop, I’ll find it…I’m ready for the challenge of bringing in what people want to see,” says Van Weerdhuizen.
A Missouri native, Van Weerdhuizen lived in New York City for 12 years working in commercial technology, marketing and sales. Her jump into retail wasn’t part of her specialty, which made her nervous.
“Jeremy has taught me everything [about retail],” said Van Weerdhuizen. “It’s been amazing. I’ve learned more in the last couple weeks than I’ve learned in my entire life.”
The collaboration has resulted in net positives for both Austen and Van Weerdhuizen. Austen’s customer base loves the new plant store and is supportive already.
“It can only get better from here,” says Austen.
GRO is planning a grand opening May 19 where they’ll feature larger plants, giveaways and more.
The current art show at Austentatious is viewable to the public from now until June 22.
Austentatious and GRO are located at 494 Highway 101 in Florence. Their hours of operation are 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Wednesday to Saturday and 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday.
Visit GRO’s website at groflorence.com/.