Co-owners Robert Ungaro, left, and Carina Guerrero, stand outside of their shop together on Saturday, Sept. 24, 2022, at Radical Botanicals on Madison Street at the corner of Des Plaines Avenue in downtown Forest Park, Ill. | ALEX ROGALS/Staff Photographer

The first thing one notices about the plant store that opened two months ago at 7607 Madison St. is the sheer size and variety of plants visible through the storefront window.

“I literally get a crowd of people just taking a pause in front of my window and breathing,” said co-owner Carina Guerrero.

That is precisely what she and her partner, Robert Ungaro wanted to see when they opened Radical Botanical. They wanted to do more than just sell plants and heal sick plants. As the name suggests, they saw a store as an opportunity to help their customers, mentally and spiritually, and bring them closer to nature. Even before they opened a physical location, they got a positive response 

Guerrero and Ungaro said they became interested in growing plants before they met each other, for their own, separate reasons. Guerrero said she’s been interested in plants since she was a child. About six years ago, she started out growing a rose bush, and she soon became interested in the farm-to-table movement. Living in a “tiny Cicero apartment,” she began growing a few herbs, and bought books on plant growing at Half-Price Books to get better at it. And while she sold some herbs and vegetables around the neighborhood and at her daughter’s school, she didn’t think about turning it into business until she met Ungaro.

Ungaro said he got into growing plants while working with fellow veterans. Taking care of the plants, he said, proved to be therapeutic, because it gives veterans “something to take home and take care instead of just themselves.”

But it wasn’t until after the two met that they thought about starting a business that would allow them to share the benefits they got from plants with the community.

“The overall mission is to create pockets of sanity and divinity in the community, in their house,” Guerrero said. “For them to have a resting place, to kind of ease the mind in the spirit when all the hecticness is going on. We live in the concrete jungle, instead of a natural place.”

While the “botanical” part of the name was self-evident, she said that the “radical” part reflected the “radical idea” that people could come to nature for healing. While she said she doesn’t want to disparage medical science, it shouldn’t be the only source of treatment.

A physical location at the River Forest/Forest Park border made sense, since Guerrero grew up in the western suburbs and their daughter attended a school in River Forest. 

“I got back, joined the American Legion down the street and decided that it’s the neighborhood where I wanted to open my plant shop with my queen,” Ungaro said.

Radical Botanical also offers classes where kids learn about the plant growth cycles and how to take care of them, mostly through hands-on learning – something that she said was inspired by her learning about plants from her grandmothers and passing that knowledge on to her daughter. Each class lasts around an hour.

“There’s no test, so don’t worry about that,” Ungaro added. “It’s just a simple 5-10 minute [lesson on] how the plant will grow in the future, and then they literally push it into the ground itself.”

Guerrero said they didn’t want customers to feel pressured to buy something, preferring instead to work with them and find the plant that’s right for them. 

She also said she likes to see customers stay in touch.

“I don’t like when people just buy a plant and take it home,” Guerrero said. “If I was working at Home Depot, God forbid,  and if they did not come back and tell me how the plant is doing, I’d be upset.”