Coconut Grove—the home of Ladies Night at Sandbar, PK3s at Monty’s and rapidly rising rent rates. Nestled in the heart of this iconic neighborhood is the Coconut Village Collective, an eclectic bazaar where customers can browse a range of products from potted plants to fresh coffee and trendy roller skates sold by a diverse group of the Grove’s oldest and newest retailers.
Over the years Coconut Grove has been home to hippies, yuppies, “Cocaine Cowboys” and college students—and according to the owners at the collective, it’s coming back in a major way. With the newly finished CocoWalk leased up, home prices rising steadily and even University of Miami students beloved Sandbar getting a makeover, big things are happening in the neighborhood.
As the Grove evolved and rents skyrocketed, local business owners like Vivian Jordan, whose clothing shop, The Maya Hatcha, is the oldest in the area, found themselves without a home and chose to band together instead of being forced out. The result was the Coconut Village Collective, which is home to plant shop Kreative Gardens, artsy destination Kcull (pronounced “cool”), Catch a Wave surf shop, The Maya Hatcha, Cafe Vidita coffee shop and Therapia by Aroma, an essential oil shop.
Jordan, a University of Miami alumna, opened her doors in 1968 with a vision of sharing her Guatemalan heritage with the community and selling a funky collection of goods from her travels around the world. At the time, her rent was just $100 a month. The laid-back Grove, she said, was the perfect neighborhood to launch such a business with her sister, who’s now a social worker.
The Maya Hatcha sits in the middle of the collective, offering customers a unique selection of goods ranging from authentic Sioux dreamcatchers to African tribal jewelry. Among the most popular items, Jordan said, are “worry dolls,” thumb-sized fabric dolls that hail from her Guatemalan culture.
“You tell them your worries,” she said, “and they worry for you.” As to whether Jordan herself is worried, she told Distraction: “I’m sad to see the old Grove go, but I’m receptive to the new.”
When rising rent prices forced her out of her old storefront, Jordan somewhat reluctantly opted to join the fledgling village collective in order to stay in the neighborhood that her business had become such an integral part of.
“I couldn’t start all over again,” she said. “Everybody knows me in the Grove. I had to stay here.”The Coconut Village Collective, said Jordan, was the brainchild of Sam Noddle, a realtor with The Comras Company which owns both CocoWalk and the collective’s building. One of its first members was Catch a Wave, and Jordan said she was initially hesitant to mix the two brands. However, she said, as owners like Renee Molina of Kreative Gardens signed up, she bought into it.
The concept for the collective, Noddle said, came out of a desire to keep shops in the neighborhood that “make the Grove the Grove.” When Comras decided to revamp CocoWalk, he said, it became his responsibility to negotiate rent relief with tenants—offering lower monthly payments in exchange for the right to take over their space when it came time for new construction. Many owners likely had little choice. When The Maya Hatcha’s lease was up, he said, Jordan’s new rent would have roughly quadrupled in her old space.
Noddle said he would have felt bad if these tenants had to leave the neighborhood, so he came up with a solution. Coconut Village Collective, he said, has been around for roughly two years now and, despite growing pains, is in a good place. Early on there was squabbling and the layout was poorly organized. Then COVID-19 came, closing the doors altogether. Comras, he said, offered the owners five months of free rent to help out—under the condition that they reorganize the store and move the shops around. Now, customers are greeted up front by the potted plants of Kreative Gardens and the Cafe Viditas coffee stand, and can wind their way along a colorful path to Kcull, The Maya Hatcha and Catch a Wave in back of the collective.
Bob Dunbar, a lifelong ‘Canes fan who owns the surf shop with his brother Paul, said that Catch A Wave is happy to be part of the Grove’s “comeback.” Dunbar’s father Colin started the family business in 1979, making it one of the oldest businesses in Coconut Grove. Back then it was “Upwind Surfing,” a hotspot for, well, windsurfers. Now it’s “Catch a Wave,” and patrons can find everything from wind surfing to skateboarding equipment and beach apparel. TikTok trendy roller skates, he said, are the hot product right now and are featured prominently behind the front counter.
“We were here in the crazy days of Coconut Grove in the 80s when it was on fire,” he said “and the 90s when it was super popular. Then it got slow for years and we watched it slow down, but it feels like it’s coming back.” High rent, he said, has often been an issue, but local businesses make the vibrant neighborhood what it is. There has to be the right mix, he said, of small, family joints and big businesses to keep that local flair.
For the record Dunbar, who remembers the University’s “glory days” as well, believes the Miami Hurricanes Football team is also poised for a triumphant comeback…eventually.
While the collective is home to two of the Grove’s oldest businesses, it’s also ushering new retailers into the neighborhood. Both Kcull and Kreative Gardens opened their second locations here after thriving elsewhere.
Kcull, owned by Jennifer Noll, is a collective within a collective, featuring stunning art, jewelry and apparel from Miami artists and creators. Painted denim jackets, digitally enhanced photography prints of iconic Miami locations and recycled jewelry grace her racks and walls.
Noll got her start in retail selling cigars in Little Havana, but when that lease ended she set her sights on a new shop. Kcull was born in 2017, and today carries clothes and creations from more than 40 local artisans.
“The thing I love about this,” she said, “is feeling like I’m helping artists with a platform. It’s really rewarding to see them grow.”
Noll is a Miami native, who says the possibility of commercialization is at times worrying but that local businesses can survive if they get creative. “With all the new construction and rent hikes,” she said, “I think we’re going to see more collectives where stores come together into a shared space. For a small business, it’s hard to compete with big corporate retailers.”
Creativity is something Kreative Gardens owner Renee Molina has in spades. Born in Nicaragua, Molina spent her childhood playing in the rainforest before emigrating with her family in 1978 due to civil unrest. Her plants adorn the front section of the shop, spilling out onto its expansive sidewalk displayed on refurbished furniture and wood pallets.
Molina studied architecture, and the recycled structures that now showcase her goods are not her only invention. The “Root Orb” is Molina’s patented product, a ball made out of organic material woven with the plants’ roots that can take the place of a traditional pot. The orb doesn’t just provide a unique look; it gives owners a visual guide to watering their plants. When the orb is dry, depending on the species, it’s time to add some H2O.“
The number one reason why people kill their plants is that they don’t understand its watering needs,” she said. “So the store has become sort of like a learning garden; the plant itself talks to you.”
So far the talking plants have paid off for Molina, who now has three locations including her shop in the Grove, a pop-up in Wynwood and her main store near Tropical Park. She leads a small team of local employees including a production team, sales team and carpenter and believes in treating them the way she’d like them to treat her.
Outside of work, she leads the nonprofit Maderas Rainforest Conservancy, which focuses on protecting rainforest ecosystems, increasing awareness and empowering local communities.
“I was trained as an architect and born as an artist,” she said “so everything I see in the forest I see as art. The nonprofit was born because of that sadness I had watching the rainforest disappear.”
Like the nonprofit, the shop owners at Coconut Village Collective are conserving a neighborhood and a culture, coming together as a group that represents the Grove’s past and future. It has become a landmark itself, designated by the Greater Miami Convention and Visitors Bureau as the “Official Welcome Center of Coconut Grove.” Each Sunday, even more local vendors flock to its 30-foot-wide sidewalk for a farmer’s market that brings the community together and let’s them enjoy some BBQ and pie, according to Noll. While the future of the Grove is unknown, Noddle said these iconic businesses will likely have a place in the neighborhood for as long as they wish to.
words & design_kylea henseler. photos_jamaya purdie.
This article was published in Distraction’s summer 2021 print issue.