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Health and wellness retailer back in business after deemed non-essential during COVID lockdowns

Planet Botanix's Heather Garrod found it ironic that, at a time when her customers needed her business the most, she couldn't be there.

Heather Garrod is happy to be back to running her business where she says people can come in and de-stress.

Planet Botanix is the therapeutic store Garrod's been operating on Bank Street since 2010, selling meditative products such as essential oils, herbs, supplements, scented soaps, candles, teas, crystals, art, ceremonial grasses and incenses in the front, with yoga and massage studios in the back.

“I thought it was ironic we were considered non-essential [during the COVID-19 lockdowns] when we offer the very self-care tools to help people cope with the lockdowns, and yet the LCBO, pot shops and drug stores selling all those things to numb people were allowed to stay open. I didn't understand the logic.”

She has a point.

As Dickens would say, 'it was the best of times, it was the worst of times.' When Garrod was allowed to open, staff couldn't keep up with demand. Then came another lockdown and store layoffs.

Initially, Garrod pivoted the business online; offering curbside shopping and videos with health care practitioners, grief counsellors, nutritionists and yoga instructors, with mixed results.

By the third lockdown, she admits, she was ready to throw in the towel.

“Entrepreneurs are resilient but we didn't see COVID-19 coming,” Garrod says shaking her head in disbelief. “The store is a big part of my life. I didn't know how much more me and my staff could take. When you're so not in charge of your own existence, after a while, there's nothing to do but panic. We're just trying to hold on, stay sane and not freak out.”

You wouldn't normally associate a space as tranquil as Planet Botanix with high anxiety, but welcome to 2021. The vibe at Planet Botanix is mellow to the point of being almost spiritual. It smells exotic and other-worldly. 

Garrod's seen customers time and time again come in during their lunch hour to zone out, quietly absorbing the soothing music and stress-relieving scents including sage, lavender and bergamot oils.

“People come in here to decompress,” she says. “This is an experiential store. You can't do this online. Aromatherapy is so therapeutic for the senses. The people who come in here are looking for tools to relieve stress and all the things we've had to deal with the last two years.”

“I'm an advocate of natural health above all,” she adds. “I opened Planet Botanix because there weren't places like this when I opened. Essential oils, crystals, supplements and taking control of your own health and well being is important. If you leave everything into the hands of a doctor, you relinquish your own healing.”

A certified aromatherapist, Reiki practitioner and Indian head massage therapist, Garrod began making her own essential oils and body care products in her free time while working for the federal government as an archeological conservator. Her products sold well enough at farmers' markets and festivals, she decided to open her first store in the Glebe in 2005.

“The longer I worked at the government, the more I realized how much happier I was here, interacting and helping people with their wellbeing.”

“COVID should have taught us to fix our highly stressed society,” she adds. “The hippies had good ideas. Grow your own food, be self-sufficient, use supplements instead of conventional medicine. A doctor can treat the symptom or you can figure out why you're feeling that way in the first place, get to the root of the problem and do something about it.”

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