Secret Lives: The Shopkeeper

Plants, coffee and secondhand goods join hands

secret lives

Thrifting and rehabbing old furniture is second nature to Jessica Hainsworth. Born in Germany, her dad’s work as a government contractor meant her family moved frequently. She and her mom shopped thrift stores as a quick and inexpensive way to set up home in a new place.

With that background, it’s no surprise she became a thrift-shop entrepreneur. When Jessica opened Honest Thrift Studio in Old Town it was to be a spot for antique furniture, vintage jewelry, resale clothing and boutique finds at thrift-shop prices. “It wasn’t going to be a billion-dollar venture for me,” she says. “I wanted people to come in and have a really great experience.”
Then she discovered a new love—gardening.

She started propagating plants when she moved into her own home after college. “I’ve always been thrifty, but I learned the financial benefit of propagating my houseplants,” she says. “Then a few weeks after I opened my shop, a customer taught me how to propagate succulents. I found it to be addicting that I could grow an entire new succulent from a single leaf. Within a few weeks, I had multiple propagation trays with a couple hundred leaves in them.”

Now, she’s taking her entrenpreneurial spirit and love for gardening and combining them in her next venture. She and her husband are taking over the cafe space next to Honest Thrift Studio (more on that later).

“It’s so easy to multitask, to be busy and productive. It’s glamorized,” she says with a knowing laugh, “which I struggle with because owning your own business, you have to be busy.”
Today is a restocking day at Honest Thrift Studio, but Jessica’s taking a break to chat about her expansion into plant sales and a neighboring retail space. She sits on a semicircle wood bench, freshly painted white, with her 8-year-old mutt Riker nuzzling her hand.

secret lives

Clockwise from left: Jessica Hainsworth propagates her plants in her Normal Heights garden. Gardening daily—even if it’s just for a few minutes—every morning and every evening brings bountiful results

“I found it to be addicting that I could grow an entire new succulent from a single leaf.”

Her small Normal Heights backyard is where she propagates her favorite succulents and houseplants like pothos (Epipremnum aureum), friendship (Pilea peperomioides) and spider plants (Chlorophytum comosum).

“A friend once told me that hands in the soil once a day keeps depression away,” Jessica says. “I’ve learned that in gardening, if your hands are covered in soil, you can’t return an email and you can’t fold the laundry. You have to be fully present, which is very grounding. It really is therapeutic, so I try to garden in the mornings and in the evenings, even if it’s just for five minutes.”

secret lives

The clipping she holds in her left hand is starting to form roots; the brown one in her right didn’t take. “I tell people to lower their standards [when propagating]. If half grow then that’s a major success,” she says.

It made sense to branch out in the shop and add the plants she propagates to her inventory. She also buys wholesale plants from area nurseries to resell, filling her petite store with sometimes hundreds of plants that decorate every surface and hang en masse from the chicken wire-and-wood-beam ceiling. In addition, Jessica hosts succulent planting parties at the store. For $25, attendees get all the materials and all-you-can-plant succulents. (Seriously, there’s no cap on how many plants people can pick up at this price.) She also gives free propagating tutorials and loads of plant advice—from separating and repotting to rehabbing—in her Instagram stories (@honesthriftstudio). You can find hours of info in her highlights.

Honest Thrift Studio is tucked in the back of a cluster of small bungalow shops along Congress Street that date back to 1929. The property owners recently offered Jessica the covered patio area next door, a space previously occupied by music-and-coffee venue Backdrop and before that, Java Joe’s. And that’s why she’s growing her entrepreneur portfolio by one more, opening Garden Coffee in the space adjacent to her thrift shop.

Together with her husband of five years, Mark Sellers, Jessica hopes Garden Coffee will be a place for shoppers to relax and make some friends while enjoying coffee, gelato and gluten-free pastries—and plants, too (though these won’t be for sale).

“We want this to be everyone’s coffee shop,” Jessica says, explaining that the off-street locale and a large magnolia tree overhead will give the space a “secret garden” feel. “The fact that it’s hidden is actually one of the best things about this location. Everyone who comes is intentional; it’s where they mean to be. It’s like a secret club that anyone can join. All you have to do is be nice.”

Jessica and Mark are freshening up the coffee shop by painting some of the wooden fences and benches white, widening countertops and installing copper plant rails. Jessica hopes to include a living plant wall in the new design and will repurpose an old piano from the former music venue as a planter.

“I really like making things look pretty,” Jessica says. And at her boutique, it’s no different. “One week we’ll get in a ton of shabby-chic things, and some weeks a ton of modern. This is my art. Every week I present a new canvas.”

Clothing is $2 per item, and the plants she propagates and sells embrace the same low-cost concept (though they aren’t all $2). “You leave with a handful of things, and there’s no buyer’s remorse,” she says.
The stock of donated thrift goods turns over quickly. What isn’t purchased within a few weeks goes into “mystery bags” for $3 apiece. Jessica says she aims for zero waste, while also keeping the store updated.

secret lives

Besides stories and tips, Honest Thrift Studio’s Instagram also keeps its regulars in the know by posting the latest finds. Her dog Riker makes plenty of cameos, too. And the store’s Wednesday through Saturday hours are there, which Jessica readily admits are a bit wonky and subject to change. She defines some of the impermanence of the store—from its hours to its inventory to the mismatched paint on the walls—as part of its charm.

“I have a friend who says it’s ‘perfectly imperfect.’ Now that’s at the front of my mind with everything I do,” she says. “If you come in with a good attitude, you’re bound to find a few treasures, a plant, and at least one new friend. Two if you count Riker.”



It’s #SecretLivesWeek at SDH/GL. We want to hear about your secret life! Do you have a side gig? A surprising talent? A superhero alter ego? We’re going to feature stories of some amazing secret lives—plus tips and tricks for managing all the extra to-do lists!—all week long. We want to see yours too; tag #SecretLivesWeek and we will add your pics to the mix!