An empty lot at 5 Essex Street is gated by an inconspicuous tall wooden fence. You’d think that behind the undone chain lock would be a sea of garbage and overgrown weeds, but pass through the initial barrier, and you’ll find a zen seating area complete with sand-colored tiles and minimalist benches. Behind it, you’ll discover somewhat of a secret garden, seeded with desert blooms. Welcome to Cactus Store, an L.A.-based greenery pop-up in NYC. In early June, the owners—three designers–turned–prickly pear obsessives, Max Martin, Carlos Morera, and Jeff Kaplan—drove hundreds of cacti eastward to establish this fun-size emporium. Though their original plan was to keep the hothouse open only until October, the reception their succulent goods have received has prompted them to reconsider, possibly extending their lease on the land into the early winter.
We hope so. Because tucked away in a corner of the Lower East Side and kept at a steamy 104 degrees, it is NYC’s very own Death Valley—and we adore it. With a concrete floor, cinder-block posts, and a white net shroud as a roof, this 25-by-25-foot store’s simple decor draws the eye to all the twisted, towering, and prickly goodness on offer. Thanks to diversified stock (the plants range from $30 to more than $5,000) and meticulous organization, the place has become a bit of a shrine for cactus connoisseurs, general green-thumbers, amateur ecologists, and curious observers alike. I fall into that last category and picked up a pale chartreuse specimen that measured just as tall as my index finger and was, I was informed, over 100 years old and “should probably be in a museum.” Each piece of merchandise here, in fact, tells either an ancient tale or a budding coming-of-age story. I found one century-old succulent that fit into the palm of my hand and another with a fiery red flower that had only sprouted a week prior to my visit.
Though a cramped apartment with minimal light isn’t the ideal place to host any form of horticulture, all a cactus really needs is light (it should be placed on a windowsill in direct sun), a single watering every month or two, and a little love. Low maintenance? I’ll happily adopt a chic succulent from the Cactus Store any day of the week.
Cactus Store New York
5 Essex Street (between Hester and Canal Streets), Lower East Side
Open Tuesday–Sunday, 11 a.m.–7 p.m.