East passyunk avenue was in the midst of a retail renaissance in 2010 when Curt Alexander opened Urban Jungle, selling plants and self-watering planters, window boxes and green wall systems. That change has accelerated, and Urban Jungle has been a big part of it. “When I came in I felt like somehow I became the biggest small business owner on the avenue,” Alexander says.
The store’s lush greenery had a visual impact, and as green things do in a fertile environment, it has spread. Alexander’s handiwork is visible at half a dozen businesses on E. Passyunk Avenue, plus establishments such as Avance (1523 Walnut St.) and the OCF Coffee Houses (21st St. and Fairmount Avenue and 20th and Federal streets).
“Everybody just kept coming to me to do window boxes and irrigation,” Alexander says.
Living just three blocks from his store, Alexander is excited to be part of the community. “My goal was to have as small a carbon footprint as I could and help as many people as I could, creating greenery and life in the city without having to commute,” he says.
The community was happy to have him. “A lot of restaurants [and nightclubs] were wanting to come in,” says Alexander, “[but the owners] were very environmentally conscious, so when they heard about Urban Jungle and our concept, they let me sign a five-year lease.”
Business has “been growing like crazy every year,” Alexander says, who is already looking at expanding. “I want to find a larger piece of land in an underdeveloped part of the city where I can bring some more life into that area that needs it more, and where it’s more affordable.” He also wants to start reaching out to clients in New York and Washington, D.C.
How long can he keep up this pace? “Till I’m 85, maybe, if I live that long,” he says. “I can’t see myself stopping anytime soon. There’s no way—we’ve just got too much momentum.”
Story by Jon McGoran and photos by Neal Santos.