This feature is part of a CN&R special report: Entrepreneurs 2022: Reinvention.
In March 2020, with plants in their nursery and their annual business cycle about to bloom simultaneously, Courtney Paulson and Chris Hunter locked the gates of Magnolia Gift and Garden. They could have stayed open—under pandemic restrictions at the time, theirs was considered an essential business—but uncertainty in the first wave of COVID-19 prompted the married owners to take the safest course.
“I thought we were toast; I thought that was it [for the nursery],” Paulson recalled in a recent interview. “I mourned our life, really. It was just such a strange time.”
Three weeks later, Magnolia reopened … and went on to have its best year since the couple started the business in 2008 at the East Avenue location of the old Zamora Nurseries, where Paulson had worked 20 years. California’s stay-home orders led to more interest in plants, she explained—notably, house plants. From this coalescence sprung a downtown shop, which opened last August. The store with an industrial interior, on Broadway between Eight and Ninth streets, expands upon the indoor plants and pottery aspects of Magnolia’s nursery, with a distinct aesthetic. Paulson knew she’d found her place the moment she spotted it while driving by, stopped and peeked inside.
“We weren’t actively looking,” she said, “but I messaged my husband that I wanted to get this space because it was just so perfect, with all the windows and the skylight.
“Honestly, I’d been at the nursery for so many years [that] I was kind of ready for a change, too. But I love plants, so this has been a new adventure sticking in the plant world. It’s kind of a perk, too, that my husband and I have our own spaces now!”
Paulson (and Hunter) decided the storefront needed only a couple minor renovations: flooring and paint. Otherwise, Paulson simply has added touches of decor from local antiques stores such as Eighth and Main. She said she continuously refreshes the look of her shop, not just the inventory, so customers can have a different experience each visit.
Her overarching theme is a motto for both sites of the business: cultivating a good-natured home.
So far, the clientele has come from “a lot of word of mouth”—via the East Avenue location, social media and the Local Nursery Crawl (happening Feb. 25-26 this year) in which Magnolia participates.
“What a luxury that we have an established business,” Paulson said. “And we had that advantage with our nursery [when it opened]; everyone knew there was a nursery there, so even though the name changed, that’s always been on our side.
“It’s been a lot of fun [opening the new shop],” she added. “It’s been a lot of work … it was a little more than I was anticipating, but it’s amazing. I’m really grateful and happy.”
Magnolia Downtown Chico, 830 Broadway, (530) 809-4196. magnoliagardening.com
Magnolia Garden’s downtown gift shop was one of my go-to spots for holiday shopping this year. It is awesome! I love the plant/gift displays and the smell of an indoor nursery. Courtney has a great eye for both the gift and plant sides of the business. It has a very good energy, making it a fun spot to explore and shop.
I’m a regular customer at Magnolia Nursery and, now, Magnolia Downtown. Chris and Courtney are delightful. I really appreciate their creative approach to garden design. Both spaces are beautiful and serene. I just want to hang out, sit at a table in a corner and soak up the cool green. I highly recommend shopping these local gems instead of big box nurseries.