When Adrienne and Jamie first started talking about opening a store, they carefully selected a storefront in the Rockridge neighborhood in Oakland. They felt the eclectic vibe would suit their store, which sells a mix of home goods, fashion, and accessories. Even more importantly, it was walking distance from both of their homes. Six year later, Oakland has been named Most Exciting City and Atomic Garden serves as an oasis on busy College Ave (and online!) Adrienne and Jamie share with Rue Daily how they weather a rocky start by staying true to themselves.
You two meet “by accident,” you say. How did that happen?
Adrienne: “Our kids were playing soccer at the same field and we didn’t know each other. I saw Jamie, she had this sweater on that was super cool and I thought she may have knit it. Which she hadn’t but we developed a friendship at the soccer field, even though our kids weren’t on the same team.
Jamie: “She has boys and I have girls but we were the only parents that were there watching practice. We found ourselves sitting on the same bench every week.”
So you started talking first about working on wholesale band merchandise that you were involved with through your husband’s work, Adrienne, and at first Jamie was just helping you as a friend?
J: I had a lot of experience with manufacturing so I said I’d go check things out for you. And time and time again, it just wasn’t a good fit but we started finding really cool companies that were doing interesting things…
A: and trying to do things differently, trying to do things with more of a soul and more of a transparency in their productions. We were just talking, wouldn’t it be cool if there was a store where you could find really beautiful things that were made with a conscience.
J: So by started finding all these resources, we realized we should just start a store.
Was sustainability a selling point for the store?
J: It was really important that we just did things as we are, that we didn’t label ourselves green or eco-friendly. For us it’s not just one thing or another. It’s not about being all organic or all local. Some things we have are local, some things are recycled, some things are organic. It’s all about how things are made, who the people are making them. It’s the mix of how it all goes together. We want you to feel transported, somehow, just a little. That you step in off the street and feel lets it’s a different little world.
Launching when you did was good timing as far as the ‘green’ trend but it was soon being outweighed by economic concerns.
J: I think we signed the lease and then Obama detailed the true state of the economy. Stock market plummeted and here we had just signed this five year lease. So we started at the bottom. In a way, that was good because we really had to work for every customer. In terms of not really having the stars aligned (laughs) but despite ourselves we’re growing and evolving. It’s been good but it was definitely not the brightest platform to start.”
A As we were opening, stores were closing and closing and closing.
J: We were really clear that we were going to start slowly. We didn’t start with that much [merchandise] and we let it grow on its own accord.
A: The community has been super receptive to it. Especially in this area, there is value in the story of craft. We have a really great customer base that is really just awesome. They’ll come in just to check out what’s new or just to smell the store.
You two are very hands on, down to the crafting the window displays yourself. How has the store evolved as you work to get that ‘transported’ feeling?
J: It was the mirror that you found from this guy (Billy Kroft) who was taking reclaimed wood from his grandparents’ dilapidated chicken ranch. I went to meet him at his studio, this live/work situation in Oakland, and I remember calling you, like “This guy can do anything, he has to do out store.”
A: he ended up building our table, our counter, our shelves. It was just such a great story, using his grandparents’ wood. That mirror just led us to him.
J: He’s been an integral part of our atomic garden family.
A: From there, we took an old couch and had it recovered with our logo. It’s funny because that piece of furniture people will walk by and stop to ask if it’s for sale. I don’t think we had a clear vision. We just started taking elements that we liked. Our aesthetics are very similar so we just wanted to bring between us what we liked. We brought our own aesthetics into the store and they just kind of merged.