Libby Hockenberry has always had roots in planting. Little did she know, her love for foliage would one day propel her to the forefront of Georgia’s small business scene, from the storefront of a renovated Sears magazine factory.
From a young age, Libby was gardening and harvesting potatoes in her mom’s home garden each morning, even when she had friends spend the night. As she grew older, her love for all things green and gardens grew with her. She delved into the floral industry, working for a floral design firm primarily covering weddings and small events.
However, in 2017, Hockenberry was unsure where her path would lead, but she was sure of the one thing that kept her rooted: plants. She was married to her husband, Cary, and the couple was living in Atlanta, Georgia.
“I met him and I sparked his interest in plants,” Hockenberry shared with Garden & Health, “when we would travel we would check out all the conservatories and gardens, and after going to several cities and finding all these cool shops, we realized Atlanta was really missing something like that.” The young couple realized the southern city they knew and loved was missing what they looked for in other cities: a creative plant shop.
Libby says the timing was “serendipitous.” While her husband had floated the idea of opening a small business previously, the hard work seemed too much to take on with a full-time job. Now that Libby was no longer working in the floral industry, she was ready to make moves on the plant shop of their dreams. Slowly, they started to build a following online as they sold cacti out of a small corner of an already existing store. Soon, Libby and Cary were moving enough products to open their own space in that same shopping complex. Its name? The Victorian.
The Victorian Era encompassed the majority of the 19th century. During that time, the homes transformed: there was heavy ornamentation and strong rooflines, but more importantly — beginning in 1875 — bigger windows and higher ceilings. “The Victorian Era was really the first age of folks who brought plants indoors,” Hockenberry said, so “it’s the first name [for a store] that popped into my head. It’s an homage to the Victorians…they were the ones who were obsessed enough with plants to start putting them inside!”
Today, The Victorian is located on the eastern side of Atlanta, in a revamped Sears magazine factory. The structure, which sits in Atlanta’s quickly-developing fourth ward, is part of a larger sustainability trend in newly developing neighborhoods: renovating spaces with a rich history and strong sense of place versus demolishing them and building from the ground up. “It was kind of a dilapidated building,” Hockenberry recalls, “but now [it has] been [turned] into a shopping mall with a lot of emphasis on trying to bring in local businesses.” The approach to revitalize local, old structures is becoming increasingly popular in America, and it not only preserves the community’s history, but limits the environmental impact of new commercial builds. Much like Atlanta itself, Ponce City Market is a mixing pot of retail spaces and niche dining experiences fostering a welcoming community for shoppers and tourists alike. “It’s a great destination in Atlanta, so we are fortunate to have gotten our foot in the door here,” the now-successful business owner says.
The building is unapologetically industrial, once again leaning into its roots as a once-thriving Sears catalog facility. Revitalized red brick fills the space around gargantuan steel beams that are unusually complemented by floor-to-ceiling glass windows and doors for each storefront. At The Victorian, Fiddle Leaf Figs and thriving agave plants sit perched in their earth-tone planters outside the front door. The store itself is a long, rectangular space with the original steel beams exposed some 15 feet above the ground. From them, simple pendant lights cast a warm glow over the exotic cacti and sun-hungry tropicals. On the right side of the store, a patchwork painted wall displaying soil and plant-colored rock shapes. To the left, an outstandingly vibrant, intertwined corner of tropicals and succulents whose burgundy, bright orange, and dewy green leaves create a jungle nook in the window.
The Victorian doesn’t stop at selling just plants. In addition to their foliage offerings, the shop is known for goods crafted by local artisans. Hockenberry’s shop also offers a proprietary soil blend that has risen to popularity in the local community in recent years ever since increased scrutiny has been leveled at the sustainability of houseplant soil, mainly peat moss and perlite. The recently covered topic was a welcomed talking point for Hockenberry, since sustainability is a foundational pillar of the store’s mission.
“What sets us apart from most other shops, not just in Atlanta but across the country, is that ever since we opened, the one thing I wanted to do was offer custom soil blends made in-house,” Hockenberry told Consensus. Rather than use peat moss or perlite (which don’t offer plants any added nutrition), The Victorian adds coconut coir to their blends — a natural byproduct of coconuts that offers an organic and sustainable alternative to the draining properties of peat moss, without the harmful environmental effects.
Atlantia’s houseplant scene is jumping at the opportunity to make their indoor greenery more sustainable, too. “It’s flying out the door,” Hockenberry says proudly, “soil is a huge portion of our business now. We hope to offer it wholesale one day to other plant shops.”
Libby and Cary Hockenberry’s store is located at 675 Ponce De Leon Avenue Northeast, Suite West 113 in Atlanta, GA.