Planet-friendly home improvement

Monica Smith

Photo by Howard Hardee

Until recently, 33-year-old Monica Smith was a stay-at-home mom who raised animals and tended “massive vegetable gardens.” But over the last six years, as she learned more about the toxicity of common household goods and the burgeoning market for eco-friendly building supplies, Smith's toyed with the idea of opening up a green home-improvement store. In May, the first-time business owner took the leap and opened Earthliving in south Chico. There she offers mostly regionally produced countertops, flooring, insulation and bedding and more—all nontoxic and environmentally friendly. Visit Earthliving at 2412 Park Ave., open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Tues.-Sat., or call 487-7310. Look for a website in the new year.

So, it’s just you—no employees?

It will be a lonely Christmas party, but I do have friends and family who help out. It works for the moment. It has to make sense for me to hire an employee.

Isn’t opening a business by yourself a massive undertaking?

In times of old, this is how people opened up businesses. Loans and credit cards have taken over, but people used to open businesses with hard-earned money and their blood, sweat and tears. They didn't just go, “Give me a $50,000 loan and if it doesn't work out, whatever.” Everything in here is hand-built, all the cabinetry. This building was a gas station, then it was Tom Berry's Tires for like, 60 years, so this place was nasty and needed a facelift—a little sweat equity.

Why open a green building store?

We live in such a toxic society; everything is toxic, when you really look into it. Your paint, your flooring, your insulation, your bed, your bedding—it's pretty incredible, the toxic substances our homes contain. And I found it funny that we live in a city that kind of touts itself as being healthy and green and sustainable and there is not a single place that you can buy green home goods. You can buy that kind of food all day long.

How have customers responded?

People really enjoy it when they come in. Maybe they don't buy anything, but it gets their mind moving on the products they're using. Your countertop really isn't that toxic, but [producing it] can create a lot of toxicity. So, it's about having products that make people think, “Wait, what am I using in my home, and what is the impact it's making elsewhere?”

Do you make anything yourself?

I'll reclaim wood, go strip barns or old fences and reuse it to make barn doors and cabinetry and such. I fill the back of my shop with it.

You’re handy?

I'm really learning. I've taken over the power tool situation; it's not as hard as it looks. And because it's old wood, if it's a little bit off, people kind of assume that's how it should be. It's like, “That's cool, right there.”