Angela Topp, the owner of Tree Huggers, located on the corner of Wealthy and Diamond, knows that “going green” can seem like a daunting task without the right help. She recalls her own experience a few years ago trying to buy supplies to start vermicomposting as the “straw that broke the camel’s back.”
She had to order her supplies – including her worms – online, and she was frustrated that she didn’t have a place to go or anyone to ask when she had questions.
“Everything within the green industry is kind of overwhelming. Whether it’s recycling or composting or buying safe toys for your kids, it all seems like it’s too much when you first look at it, like the picture is too big,” Topp said. “I just got sick of buying everything online. A lot of people really don’t do a whole lot because they don’t necessarily know how to get started, and they don’t really have anywhere to go or anyone to talk to that just says, ‘hey it’s actually really easy.’”
That’s why she decided to start her own store. She wanted to bring that picture into focus, to create a space where customers could shop and not feel shy about asking questions. So in 2010 Topp opened the first Tree Hugger Store in Holland and moved into her second location in Grand Rapids last August.
Since coming to Grand Rapids, Topp has quickly established herself as a visible member of Grand Rapids’ green movement, regularly holding in-store workshops on recycling, worm-farming, composting and gardening. “The store has become a learning center. We are putting a lot of effort into workshops and seminars. In a way, the store is just a way to pay my bills to make all the other things we do possible,” said Topp.
Everything that Topp sells in Tree Huggers is environmentally friendly in some way, and whether it’s organic clothing or a toy made from recycled milk jugs, Topp personally researches every product she carries in her store. There is also a “bulk station” where customers are encouraged to bring in their own containers to purchase environmentally safe cleaning products, soaps, and even vinegar.
Besides selling environmentally-friendly products and holding public workshops, Tree Huggers also runs an in-house recycling station that takes a lot of items the city won’t, like potato chip bags, toothpaste tubes, wine corks, and other atypical recyclables. “Everyone is always asking me ‘can I recycle this or that strange item.’ The joke is that our recycling center has helped clean out a lot of basements,” said Topp.
Topp is also a regular contributor to rapidgrowthmedia.com where she blogs about green issues in the business community.