Urban Gardening Store Cluck! Opens

By KEVIN PROFT/ecoRI News staff

PROVIDENCE — Cluck! is officially open for business. The urban farm supply store, on the corner of Broadway and Courtland Street, opened June 1, three months later than owner Drake Patten envisioned. A lawsuit filed by neighbors and the Sts. Vartanantz Armenian Apostolic Church concerning traffic and parking issues caused the delay.

Patten appeared in court multiple times, but the opposing sides eventually settled the lawsuit outside the courtroom. According to Patten, the settlement included provisions stating that Cluck! must not become a convenience store, and that parts of the property must be planted to obscure a neighbor’s view of the chicken coop, which will contain three laying hens.

“The settlement included a number of things that were already going to happen,” Patten said.

One unexpected settlement provision requires that Cluck! can't open until noon on Sundays, so as not to interfere with church parking. “If it weren’t for the settlement, I would be open at 9 a.m. on Sundays,” said Patten, noting that Sunday gardeners like to get an early start. In a separate agreement with the church, Cluck! will lease its vacant parking spaces on Sunday morning to the church.

According to Patten, the lawsuit against Cluck! took a financial toll, forcing her to dig into money set aside for her first year of operation. “It’s hard to make up for three months of lost business,” Patten said. Nevertheless, Patten admitted it could be worse. In addition to her lawyer discounting his fees, the community rallied, raising funds to help fight the lawsuit.

“I could have walked away, but the community rallied and we fought this together,” Patten said. “It shows what you can do when you come together.”

Despite the financial difficulty of the lawsuit, Patten believes the publicity generated by the struggle has been positive. “A lot of people read about the business in the paper, then ended up coming in,” she said.

As if on cue, a neighbor walked into the store during our conversation to tell Patten how happy he was that the store had opened and promised to support the store in the future.

Since Cluck! opened, Patten has worked diligently to transform the surroundings from an abandoned gas station into a densely planted urban garden. Asphalt has been ripped up and recycled; gravel road bedding has been replaced with fertile soil; and flowers thrive where no plants have grown for years. Raised bed gardens and planters with herbs and vegetables are also featured.

“We plant our gardens when everyone else plants theirs,” Patten said, “so part of the idea is that we will be experiencing the same issues as everyone else.” Patten noted that each garden is a little different, but hopes this shared growing experience will allow her to offer better advice to customers.

In addition to gardens, the property will house a chicken coop and three honey-bee hives. “I thought people would fight me on the bees, but it turned out they were more worried about the chickens,” Patten said.

Patten also wants to cool the property down, noting that the pavement and lack of foliage are creating a heat sink. She will remove a large swath of asphalt next to the sidewalk and add more vegetation. On the side of the building, she plans to plant a big shade tree to help cool down the chicken coop and the store.

In addition to the aesthetic and temperature-reducing effects of this work, Patten said that by increasing the amount of permeable surface and vegetation on the property, she will reduce the impact of stormwater runoff.

The shop itself is located inside the old service station, which is obvious since the main entrance is a giant garage door. Bella, Patten’s dog, ambles between well-organized departments, including beekeeping, raising chicken, canning, farming/gardening and a library.

“While we want to sell books, we also encourage people to come educate themselves,” said Patten, who wants the exchange of information to be a mainstay at her establishment. “I’m not an expert by any means. I have a certain amount of knowledge. But when customers come in, I learn from them. We solve problems together.”

Seasonally appropriate workshops, such as a fall one about preparing a garden for winter, are another way Patten hopes to make Cluck! an educational destination.

“I want to have discussions,” Patten said.