River Roots

River Roots

By Norm Bour

Every business, every story, has a beginning: the roots. Where it all started. So the name of Amy Phelps’ shop, River Roots, is telling since it represents the story itself, as well as where the business started; on the banks of the Mississippi River.

They are this month’s Shop of the Month, and also the winner of our annual 420 giveaway, and just celebrated their hard-fought three year anniversary in Quincy, Illinois.

She and her husband, Billy, were born and raised by Ol’ Man River, and they opened their shop just a few blocks away. Never inclined or interested in owning their own business, they were forced into it in 2019 when Billy lost his job of 15 years. Since Amy worked at a smoke shop and had a passion for the industry, they invested his entire retirement fund, almost $23,000, into the venture.

“We never thought we could do anything like this, and we had no idea how much we would actually need.” Amy confessed. “We lived in our home over 30 years and never wanted to own a business. But the kids were almost grown and recognized it was now or never. Who ever thought a pandemic was just a few months down the road…?” 

Who indeed?

They started with a small location on Main Street, just 700 square feet on the main road leading from the river into Illinois, and located some foreign glass. They are also just minutes away from Missouri and Iowa, so they get a lot of out of state traffic just driving by. 

“I had no idea where to even start looking for products,” she laughed! “I started to Google and looked for any small, affordable things that I thought would sell. We also focused on glass art that reflected the Mississippi River, since that was so personal to our lives, and our store is just seven blocks from the water. Billy was a glass blower and we found some other local people, so added that to our overseas mass-produced products. Right now we carry no vape stuff and just one brand of Delta 8, which is locally made.”

The first year was a struggle, Amy confessed, but when COVID eased up, their business improved so much that they bought their building and now have 8,000 square feet and expanded their shop to use 1500 square feet of that. 

“COVID actually helped us,” she said, “and we moved our glass blowing room to the front and had a lot of window shoppers who were curious. It was so funny; we were delivering bongs and glassware to these old Victorian homes that appeared so conservative. But inside, they were not!”

“We also opened our doors on Sunday for private educational sessions for those that did not wanted to be seen in public entering a smoke shop. We have family and teachers and others who have to keep up images.”

Fortunately Illinois went fully cannabis legal in 2020, so they are staying compliant with the laws. They have several dispensaries in their area and they expect Missouri to be a great funnel for future growth. 

Their business is grossing six figures plus and they have plans for expansion and to hire more people. 

“We have a five year goal, and we’re in year number three,” Amy shared, “and our plan is to have 100 percent river products in our store by year five. The river is our home. I’ve lived many different places, but I always return to my river roots.”

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