Post written by Nancy Moseley
At a time when running a specialty store in a small community is as challenging as ever, Lee Johnson, owner of The Greenhouse Boardshop on College Avenue in downtown Blacksburg, hasn’t looked back once on his decision to own and operate a small business. The retail store, which is sandwiched between High Peak Sportswear and Souvlaki specializes in skateboards, snowboards, boutique clothing, shoes and various boarding accessories.
“Everyone is very much aware of the amazing lineup of restaurants and night clubs in Blacksburg, but the retailers are often overlooked. The truth is, there are some very unique shopping opportunities here. When you combine this with a small town college setting, you have a pretty unique experience,” Johnson notes.
The original Greenhouse location was in Salem, and operated under the name “Surf-n-Turf” throughout the 1980’s. This stored eventually relocated to downtown Roanoke and ultimately to its current location adjacent Valley View mall. The Blacksburg shop opened in 1993 and has remained at its spot on College Avenue.
As for the name, “Greenhouse” was taken from the name of the green-colored house that Johnson resided in during his college years. “It was a meeting place of sorts; where an eclectic mix of people came together to have a good time. We also had a skateboard ramp in the backyard and the sound of wheels rolling and trucks grinding could usually be heard well into the night.”
“We didn’t want to name our shop ‘Board Mart’ or something similarly boring, so we went with ‘Greenhouse’, and I’ve come to think of our store as being somewhat analogous to the glass-sided structure of the same name. We’re always open for the youth (and adults) to come in and hang out, talk with us, watch a video, whatever. We’re now starting to see a second generation of customers coming in the door. Kids that previously hung out at the shop in the 90’s are now bringing their kids in. It’s cool to think that maybe in some little way our shop helped promote growth and positivity among these kids as they were coming up. Sort of like a greenhouse.”
It almost goes without saying that the biggest challenge for any small niche business is the booming online marketplace. But in keeping with his dedication to foster a welcoming atmosphere, Johnson stresses the importance of the customer experience first. The shop sees a lot of Virginia Tech foot traffic, but also has a healthy contingent of non-student clientele, along with a handful of loyal boarders who drive from far away to patronize the shop.
“Here you can try things on, see them, hold them and ask us questions first hand. That’s how we’re different from the online distributors. Those who shop locally are not only helping support the business owners and employees, but they are also supporting the local tax base. I’m always perplexed by the number of people that will drive 30 miles to buy fresh tomatoes at the farmers market, and then order their hiking boots from an online distributor in California. I don’t even sell hiking boots, but someone up the street does. If you truly want to support your local economy, you should at least take a couple minutes and see what your local retailer has to offer.”
Johnson is quite content being part of the downtown Blacksburg community, he frequents the neighboring businesses and encourages overall support of the local entrepreneur. He considers it a true success to be able to offer services, inventory and advice that you are passionate about. All of those things combined will no doubt help a community grow.
Greenhouse Boardshop was the target retail location for the Cash Mob on March 23rd 2012. The Cash Mob consisted of approximately 25 community members of all ages and included two Town Council members. The “Mob” were delighted to find that there really was something for everyone available in Greenhouse Boardshop! Some of the exciting finds included purses, sunglasses, Blacksburg t-shirts, flip flops and really cute sundresses! Johnson also makes a point of participating in the Cash Mobs supporting his neighboring businesses downtown.
“My favorite part of running this business? That I don’t have to wear a tie.” Johnson concludes with a snicker and surprisingly little hesitation that lets me know he’s pretty serious. After all, gardeners don’t wear ties.