San Diego County

Spotlight: How These 5 San Diego County Small Businesses Each Offer Personal Touch and How They Came to Be

From Escondido to Bonita, here are five locally operated small businesses and more on how they started their journeys

Dirt Don't Hurt

Three San Diego sisters who label themselves as “momtrepreneurs” turned an unfortunate circumstance into a successful business that has taken them from local farmer’s market pop-ups to a nationwide tour of Black women-owned businesses presented by a major fashion retailer. Dirt Don’t Hurt is the creation of sisters Kaya, Sativa and Maritza Murray, who began their venture in 2017 and have pushed forward to achieve health, prosperity and recognition.

SPECIALTIES: Focused on natural goods for the body, Dirt Don’t Hurt began with its signature charcoal oral care line and branched out to include skincare and body products.

The terrific trio made sure their products are 100% vegan and cruelty-free with ingredients you can easily read and recognize.

“We follow a plant-based lifestyle and it was important to incorporate that into our products – to not harm the planet as well as animals,” Kaya told NBC 7.

“When you look at all the toxic chemicals in other products, when you look at traditional brands and see warning labels, that’s when we knew there had to be a better and safer way,” Maritza said.

HOW IT GOT STARTED: Several years ago, Sativa came down with an illness that was difficult for traditional and holistic doctors to pinpoint exactly what it was. After some time, she positively tested for her illness and was given antibiotics that, unfortunately, weren’t as effective as hoped. Instead, Sativa began to take a closer look at the products and food she consumed and created her own hygiene goods for her to use.

“I just started making my own things to make sure they were clean and just pretty much changed my whole lifestyle and got better,” she recalled. “We let friends and family try them out and we got a great response.”

Shortly after the positive feedback from loved ones, Sativa began to make her all-natural products for them and her sisters joined to help.

“We realized we were onto something and we decided all three to branch together because she was overwhelmed doing the business,” Kaya said. “We then launched (our business) in April 2017 at Balboa Park on Earth Day. We decided this was something to continue. We didn’t look back, basically.”

FUN FACT: Dirt Don’t Hurt has been featured in nonprofit organization Buy From a Black Woman’s Inspire Tour, presented by H&M. The tour gave Dirt Don’t Hurt the opportunity to host a pop-up at an H&M store in Canoga Park this past summer. On Saturday, the team will travel to New York City to participate in another pop-up as part of the tour.

WHAT TO KNOW FOR THE HOLIDAYS: Those looking to gift natural skincare products to their loved ones this holiday season are in luck! Dirt Don’t Hurt offers six bundles on their website that are full of their goodies.

A WORD FROM THE OWNERS: “I really want people to know we are 100% earth and plant-based,” Maritza said. “A lot of things are labeled natural but when you look at our ingredients, they’re all things that look familiar and are easy to pronounce. I know it is, in fact, safe and effective.”

“We’re women-owned and Black-owned,” Kaya said. “That’s important, especially now these days since people want to know who they’re buying from. We’re family-owned and sister-owned. We started as a small family business.”

“I want people to know we are truly passionate about what we do and our whole product line is focused on detoxification,” Sativa said. “It helps your body feel good. We really turned a horrific situation into a positive one. I remember thinking if I ever get better, I want people to know there are alternatives.”

WHERE TO FIND THEM: Dirt Don’t Hurt can be found online on their website, at several San Diego County farmer’s markets, natural foods stores and Amazon.

House of Plants -- Bonita

What began as a way to bond with her young daughter turned into a successful business that practices its owner’s passion for sustainability. The House of Plants is a Bonita-based nursery that is home to several dozens of indoor plants and products by local artisans who craft jewelry, greeting cards and more.

SPECIALTIES The House of Plants offers locals and beyond beautiful indoor plants with a focus on sustainable practices. Owner Melanie Azcuna said she made it a priority to sell her plants directly in terra cotta pots and use pesticide-free, organic soil.

“A lot of people aren’t aware of how drastic climate change is and I think through a business I can promote awareness and something that can contribute to society and our community,” she said.

HOW IT GOT STARTED: Azcuna has always had a love for plants and found entertainment in them while growing up in the Philippines by watering her mother’s 200+ plants. She decided to introduce her young daughter to gardening and said she discovered mindful living shortly after going through a divorce.

“I really wanted to start a business that would bring awareness into our lifestyle and environment,” the business owner told NBC 7. “I realized while we were gardening that houseplants would be a good business because it’s good for the environment, health of people and I can promote a sustainable lifestyle.”

After finding success in selling her plants on Instagram and Facebook Marketplace, Azcuna opened her Bonita shop in December 2018 and has continued to be a community staple.

FUN FACT: The store is home to a multi-vendor collective that features products from other San Diego County small business owners. Its shelves are rented to small business owners for them to sell their products at the store. As of mid-November, 12 businesses offered their crafts at the plant shop.

WHAT TO KNOW FOR THE HOLIDAYS: This Bonita shop offers a variety of customizations and plant arrangements for customers. Anyone interested in requesting a custom order can contact House of Plants at (619) 576-2404.

A WORD FROM THE OWNER: “We’re grateful for our community because they choose to buy from us instead of big stores,” Azunca said. “Everything we do in small business is with a lot of heart in it. For a single mom like me, that support is a lot.”

WHERE TO FIND THEM: The House of Plants is located at 4190 Bonita Rd. #102 in Bonita. Delivery is offered within a 23-mile radius of the shop and their products can be found on DoorDash and on its website.

Artelexia -- North Park

Walk into the brilliantly painted store of Artelexia in North Park and you’ll step into a world of carefully crafted Mexican artwork from statement home pieces to greeting cards and more. Owner Elexia de la Parra took her love of Mexican folk artwork and created a home for it in the middle of San Diego to offer locals a place to buy hundreds of beautiful products.

SPECIALTIES: Artelexia focuses on Mexican décor, artisanal artwork and knickknacks crafted by artists from various regions of Mexico. De la Parra, who is originally from Tijuana, travels to Mexico to collect works of art from vendors to sell at her store in North Park.

“We have such a large representation of Mexico, which is nice,” de la Parra said. “We have thousands of products and brands from the Latinx community. I’m really proud of what we’ve curated.”

HOW IT GOT STARTED: Artelexia was born after de la Parra took a cross-country road trip to move back to Southern California from New York.

“I drove through New Mexico, went to a couple of shops there and the Mexican folk art really inspired something in me,” de la Parra recalled. “I loved the vibe of it and I was really intrigued. I think that’s what set it in motion”

Soon after, the San Diego resident’s business began its journey at various local farmer’s markets in 2009 and the following year, opened her first store in Little Italy. De la Parra then began looking at commercial properties in North Park and in 2016, moved her vibrant store to the neighborhood.

FUN FACT: Prior to the coronavirus pandemic, de la Parra would often travel to different parts of Mexico in search for artists to help her stock her store. She said that all came to a halt in 2020 when the virus made it dangerous to travel internationally.

With COVID-19 vaccine rates up and virus cases lowered compared to last year, de la Parra said she’s ready to make journeys to the southern country again to work with artisans and feature their products. She told NBC 7 that among her favorite things of owning her business is teaming up with creators and artists and seeing their reactions in her store.

“It’s nice to be able to collaborate with them,” she said. “We have vendors come in several times a week to bring in products, check out the products or see their work in store.”

WHAT TO KNOW FOR THE HOLIDAYS: With plenty of knick-knacks and fun artwork available in store, Artelexia is a fantastic gift shop for the holidays. The store packs their products in fun gift wrap that is holiday-ready and beautifully presentable.

A WORD FROM THE OWNER: “This has truly been a labor of love that has had to grow little by little and it’s become something really special,” de la Parra said. “I thought we were done in March because of the pandemic, but people started ordering online and our community kept us going and made us super strong.”

She also gave credit to her team for helping her create and maintain that special vibrancy and welcoming spirit at Artelexia.

“I’ve been able to surround myself with really lovely people,” she said of her crew. “Because of them, we’re able to do this. That’s something I like to share, as well. I have a lovely crew of people that are passionate about this and teamwork makes the dream work.”

WHERE TO FIND THEM: Artelexia is located at 3803 Ray St. in San Diego. Their products can also be found online on its website.

Pearline's Apothecary -- Escondido

It’s a family-owned and operated business that began in their dining room. Pearline’s Apothecary offers North County residents and beyond their carefully crafted skincare goods that are packed with wholesome ingredients. Owners Kelly and Peter Hester are a mother-son dream team who created the business together and remain strong with their Escondido store and presence at several area farmer’s markets.

SPECIALTIES: Named after Kelly’s grandmother, Pearline’s Apothecary offers customers artisanal handmade body products crafted with plant-based ingredients that nourish the skin. From soap and body bars to shampoo, the Hester’s handmake their products in store.

“We try to specialize in having natural, simple ingredients,” Kelly said. “Everything is handmade. There are no preservatives in them.”

HOW IT GOT STARTED: Kelly recalled that even as a biomedical research scientist, she would read labels from skincare and hygiene products and not recognize the ingredients put in them. It was then she decided to craft her own goods and make them with simple and familiar ingredients.

“(My grandmother) did everything by hand and I wanted to reach back to a simpler time when things were all-natural,” she explained. “That’s how I started.”

In the Fall of 2018, Peter returned to San Diego County after being away for 10 years and decided to help his mother since she wanted to increase the volume of her products.

“I was able to look at it from a small business perspective and knowing how certain things should go, was able to apply that to what she was doing to help her be more established,” he said.

After working from their kitchen, the mother-son business team opened up shop in Escondido in September of 2019 and have been selling their hand-crafted products in the very same store they make them in.

An undated image of Kelly and Peter Hester

FUN FACT: Pearline’s Apothecary is eco-conscious and incorporates ways to reduce waste in its business.

“Our liquid soap is in a glass bottle,” Kelly said. “Other products are in containers that are recyclable or reusable. Things like that, we consider very important.”

“It’s going back to (soap) bars, it’s going back to basics, back to raw goodness of the earth and what it provides,” Peter said of their products. “We’ve been doing our best to be eco-friendly. Everywhere we can, we’re eco-friendly

WHAT TO KNOW FOR THE HOLIDAYS: Seasonal fun is in store at this shop with its peppermint essential oil. Consumers can also be on the look out for a limited-time offer of a special on the shop’s sample packs, which will run from Small Business Saturday to Cyber Monday.

A WORD FROM THE OWNERS: “We are committed to being not just family-owned, but handmade,” Kelly emphasized. “I would rather hire more hands than become a machine-operated system.”

“Our soap doesn’t melt, either,” Peter said. “It’s a natural soap, so it’s soft. It’s good for you. Just give us a try.”

WHERE TO FIND THEM: Pearline’s Apothecary is located at 360 N Midway Dr. STE 200 in Escondido, where they offer exclusive merchandise not offered online. You can also purchase their products online on their website and at several San Diego County farmer’s markets.

The Candy Pushers -- Hillcrest

Let your inner kid shine and give in to that sweet tooth at The Candy Pushers’ inviting shop in Hillcrest. Partners in business and in life, owners Shannon and Melissa Dove welcome all to indulge in the dozens upon dozens of candy they offer and to dig right in to their handmade, decadent fudge and other gourmet treats.

SPECIALTIES: This San Diego-based store offers dozens of local and international candies to please all types of sweet tooths. For those looking for more refined treats, they can tap in to the store’s homemade fudge and specialty chocolates.

HOW IT GOT STARTED: The dynamic duo came to become business owners after fate offered the opportunity to Shannon. She was initially hired to work Hillcrest’s former Candy Depot and knew soon after that she wanted to open up a candy shop with her wife.

With Melissa 100% on board with the idea, the two purchased a cart and began selling candy from it at street fairs and private events – hence the name of their store. Not too long after, the owner of the Candy Depot said they no longer wanted to run the business and offered Shannon the opportunity to take over.

“I looked at Melissa and asked if it’s totally rational for us to say yes,” Shannon told NBC 7.

The team decided to take on the responsibility and rebrand the store as The Candy Pushers. They then moved the store from its original location near the iconic Hillcrest sign to another space down University Avenue.

FUN FACT: While Shannon is the Candy Queen of the boutique, Melissa is the Fudge Master of the store and creator of its dozens of flavors. From its classic tastes like dark chocolate sea salt to seasonal flair like apple pie, The Candy Pushers’ decadent treat comes in different varieties to appease all with a sweet tooth.

“The previous owners had just started making fudge before they shut down for quarantine,” Melissa recalled. “I figured I better learn how to make fudge. I took a day to train with the previous owner and at the time, they had 16 flavors. Now, we have 44 fudge flavors.”

WHAT TO KNOW FOR THE HOLIDAYS: Seasonal truffles are offered at the store for a limited time and the duo has a special focus on gourmet chocolate for the holidays. Holiday-themed candies may also be available, but they vary by season.

Custom candy orders are available for request for any party or occasion. For more information on this, contact the Candy Pushers at (619) 683-2334.

A WORD FROM THE OWNERS: In addition to their sweet treats, the Dove’s want the public to know that The Candy Pushers is a community-oriented safe space for people of all ages to enjoy. The business owners host a variety of family-friendly events open to all and want others to know that they can rely on the store to be an accepting and inviting community pillar.

“We want to be a safe space for the community,” Shannon said. “We’ve had karaoke nights, have had a pop-up comedy show and would love to do more. We have ideas for drag queen bingo or trivia nights and want to offer nightlife fun that’s safe for all ages.”

“People come in and feel at home in a retail shop,” Melissa said. “We strive to provide that extra experience for people. That nostalgia, kid in a candy shop, every person comes into a shop like this and feel like a kid, act like a kid.”

WHERE TO FIND THEM: The Candy Pushers is located at 1295 University Avenue, #1B in Hillcrest. You can contact them for specialty items and custom orders via their website, here.

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