An aquaponic gardening system equipped with a bull frog and a few gold fish propel the growth of fresh mint and banana pepper plants on one side of the store, while on the other side, sits a slightly dusty mill at the end of a truly spectacular grain wall.
No, this isn’t an alternate dimension, rather it’s Rock City’s specialty hobby shop for the brewer and gardener alike – The Water Buffalo Brewing and Garden Supply.
On a recent visit, manager Jack Higgins took me on a grand tour, watching as my eyes turned to the size of saucers at the names of soil nutrients and the selection of chilled yeast available to home brewers. “There’s a little something for everyone,” he says, smiling.
Owner Nolan Buffalo echoes this sentiment, “If there is a little bit of geek in you, this place is for you. It’s just a science shop dressed up as a retail store.” And truthfully, I feel like I’ve been transported back to my high school science lab, but before I can ask Buffalo says, “And no, I was never a science teacher.”
But he is now, thanks to his varied hobbies. Looking back, Buffalo counts 15 or 16 years spent on each interest – learning to garden in a small space and crafting the perfect home brew set-up. The time he invested alone is enough to prove he was and is irrevocably hooked.
Everything went smoothly until keeping his interests properly fueled turned out to be difficult. “It got to the point where I was driving to St. Louis to get supplies,” he says, “and it seemed like my hobbies were taking over all of my space and time.”
Thus, he decided it was time to see if he could transform his hobbies into a revenue stream and catch the interest others. He recruited Higgins, and opened the store’s Rodney Parham location in November of last year.
Buffalo brings customer service experience with him, aiming to keep it at the forefront of his business model. At the end of the day he wants to make a profit, but not at the expense of the customer, and he’s willing to share his knowledge with all who enter.
“We won’t sell you something you don’t need,” he says, “sometimes we can even come up with something else so that you can try that method out before making a purchase.”
More than anything, he wants locals to catch his zeal – and he does this by putting on a teacher’s cap. Saturdays at 10:00 am and 2:00 pm free classes are available to help whet your appetite in any hobby subject the store offers. These classes are also followed with a 10 percent customer discount, creating the perfect situation for a newly inspired cheese maker or hydroponic gardener to get started.
Classes notwithstanding, however, browsing the store is enough to stir a curiosity in cheese making, beer brewing, wine making, pickling and nontraditional gardening styles. Chances are, if you enter the threshold, you’re liable to find something to get excited about.
“One of the things I really like about this store is how we are about lifestyle improvement, if there’s something you want to do to be just a little bit more sustainable whether it’s gardening or making your own brew, we can help you do it,” Buffalo says.
Check it out for yourself and head down for a visit. The shop is open Monday – Friday 10 am to 6 pm and Saturday 10 am to 4 pm. Be sure to check the website for a list of upcoming Saturday classes.