New tenants sprouting at Cortona building

Small businesses Urban Sprouts and Griot Gallery make Cortona building their new home.

It’s been the year of small businesses in Renton, and the city recently celebrated the surge of new faces with the Pop-Up Downtown last month. The event was marked with the grand opening of Urban Sprouts in the newly-renovated Cortona building, which earned its historic status and was restored to its original look as an F.W. Woolworth’s.

Cortona is beginning to buzz again with activity as two new businesses are starting to catch many people’s eyes.

Urban Sprouts: A blooming small business

Urban Sprouts opened its doors at Pop-Up downtown and has been a budding business in the area ever since.

The store is founded by 25-year-old Jen Stearns who moved the store from Ballard to Renton this year. Stearns, who has a background in environmental science, said the store is the intersection of her two passions: plants and community.

“The focus of the store is building community and making things more mindful and sustainable in a hands-on way,” she said. “Instead of buying a bar of soap but you don’t know what’s in it, learn to make your own and meet new friends. Or learn how to make your herbs in your kitchen so you don’t have to buy it at the store. Or learn how greenery is beneficial and how it’s good for your health.”

Stearns doesn’t intend to simply sell plants, but aims to help match customers with the right kind of plant. She’s focused on promoting a “fun, hands-on, social, healthy and sustainability-minded lifestyle” in a way that suits individual needs.

“My thing is to make people feel supported and feel confident having plants around,” she said. Stearns also welcomes customers to come back with their plants if they have further questions or if they need plant hospital services, re-potting, and urban garden designing.

The almost 2,000 square feet space is an upgrade from her store in Ballard, which, Stearns said, was half the size of the current space. Now, she’s able to decorate her mossy, green wonderland how she wants and have space to conduct various classes, including terrarium building (a crowd favorite), wine and painting, soap making, cheese making, bonsai and others.

For more information about Urban Sprouts and class schedules, visit

Griot Gallery: An artistic storytelling hub

The space right next to Urban Sprouts might still be a work in progress, but Paul Hebron of Arts Unlimited of Renton has big plans for it.

The space is going to be a art gallery hybrid with retail space in front, featured and member galleries scattered throughout, and a classroom space for workshops and demos at the back. This Arts Unlimited project is called “Griot Gallery” after the West African traveling poets and musicians who were known for their masterful storytelling.

“It’s going to be cool because there’s going to be a lot of activity here,” he said. “Even though we’re a nonprofit, we’re looking at activating people in the community, build community and serve the community.”

The multi-purpose space will host artists of all kinds, become an artistic hub for the city, Hebron added.

“We also want to go out to the community, the underserved areas,” he said. “We want to raise up artists who learn to be entrepreneurs with their craft.”

The space is expected to be completed early 2017.

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