McMicken College of Arts & SciencesUniversity of Cincinnati

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Business Blossoms for First-Time Entrepreneur

Philosophy alumna Lisa Yunker is the owner of City Roots, an urban garden shop in Over-the-Rhine.

Date: 8/24/2009
By: Kim Burdett
Phone: (513) 556-8577
Photos By: Kim Burdett
Like stubborn weeds that come back every spring, Lisa Yunker has never been able to rid herself of her green thumb. As a philosophy major at University of Cincinnati in the mid 1990s, she worked at Spring Grove Cemetery doing grounds maintenance and landscaping for various suburban neighborhoods around Cincinnati.

Lisa Yunker.
Lisa Yunker prepares a bonsai tree for a customer. Her garden shop sells plants and does landscaping projects around Cincinnati.

And though she planned to take her UC degree and continue on with a master’s and PhD in philosophy, gardening never seemed to fade as an option in her career. Her regular trips downtown a few years ago sparked her interest in Over-the-Rhine, the Cincinnati neighborhood with a tumultuous past. Distancing herself from suburban landscaping, she saw an opportunity in the cheap store fronts with a promising future.

Today she is the sole proprietor of City Roots, an urban garden shop in the Gateway Quarter of Over-the-Rhine. Opened in June 2007, the store has seen steady growth as the neighborhood continues to build and interests in green living increase.

“I noticed that things were changing and I thought, wow, there must be a business opportunity here,” Yunker says. “Gardening was just something I threw out as an idea and the people already working or living down here had an audible reaction to it.”

Lisa Yunker.
City Roots has been in the Gateway Quarter of Over-the-Rhine for more than two years.

The shop specializes in greenery for the urbanite; house plants, bonsai trees and sedums are among the top sellers. Yunker and her staff also regularly do work around the city, planting flower pots or creating green rooftops for building owners.

It’s a good thing she spent years working for moving companies in college, Yunker says with a laugh. Unlike landscaping in the suburbs, urban gardening requires logistical knowledge in order to move equipment on a city street.

“You can’t just drive up with your dump truck in the city and throw tools down to start working,” she explains. “Some of our jobs are just as much moving as they are gardening.”

Especially considering Yunker sees her shop specializing in green living, such as garden rooftops that can absorb rainwater naturally and increase longevity of roofs.

“It’s nice hearing that our pots at Garfield Place look fantastic, and I do like doing those jobs because they give me a chance to be fun and creative. But to be honest, there’s nothing new with what we’re doing there. But I think rooftops are where we can distinguish ourselves and become more than just a cute little urban garden shop.”

City Roots is well on its way. By July of this year, the company has turned as much profit as it did its entire first year of business. And it will continue growing as business booms and more people filter into Over-the-Rhine, Yunker says.

“The timing of this place has been our strongest point. We’re in the right place at the right time,” she says. “Those elements make it successful and it wouldn’t have been possible otherwise. We’ve just had all the cards in our favor, so to speak.”

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