Walking into SugarPill apothecary feels a little like you’re walking out of Seattle’s Capitol Hill and into a shop in Diagon Alley. Most days you’ll find SugarPill owner and founder Karyn Schwartz behind the counter, who opened the shop in 2011.
Schwartz is a homeopath and herbalist with a background in everything from social work to kitchen work; she’s had “a circuitous route towards being a business owner,” as she puts it. “What all of my experience added up to was not a lot of job opportunities aside from private practice, but a deep desire to remain in the public sphere where I could teach people what I know—so eventually I had to create a job for myself,” she explains. “SugarPill is my way of taking all the things I have learned and that I am interested in, and offering them in my own way, in my own aesthetic, in a place where you can find me in person.”
SugarPill sells a unique assortment of natural remedies as well as teas, chocolates, bitters and more—not that the food items aren’t remedies too. Schwartz’s favorite product in the store right now are chocolate-covered sesame toffee squares, “because they are also medicinal.”
Customers can expect to get detailed, personalized advice about the products they buy when they come to SugarPill: “My primary focus is on whoever is in here, in person, talking to me, and trying to understand what they need and what I can safely help them with,” Schwartz says. “We do very intimate consultations here, even while tending to all the basic chores of retail, such as ordering, stocking, cleaning, paying bills, answering the phones and responding to mountains of messages.”
Schwartz has staff to run the store a couple days a week, so that she’s able to have days off, but most of the time she’s a one-woman operation. Everything with a SugarPill label on it is made by Schwartz, and every product she carries from other vendors has won her personal approval.
As a queer business owner operating in Capitol Hill, Schwartz has watched the changes in her neighborhood closely over her seven years in business. “It’s hard to predict, or even plan, what will happen in a city that is changing so rapidly, and forcing so many communities out of their own neighborhoods,” she says. “That really takes a toll on brick and mortar businesses, as we rely on our communities to support us—and exist to support our communities—so I am hoping that the city will refocus on what—and who—is already here, and do more to preserve the fabric of community which cannot be replaced by shiny new everything.”
SugarPill has a long-standing relationship with the Office of Economic Development, which strives to act as an advocate for businesses as they navigate both neighborhood growing pains and the bureaucratic web of local government. “It’s so important to have people to talk to who understand the challenges of being a very small business owner, and who also understand the importance of very small business at a time when very large ones have so much influence over our lives,” she says of her relationship with OED staff.
Being a small business owner in a rapidly-changing Seattle is challenging, but Schwartz hopes to keep SugarPill going for years to come and is planning a “little re-launch” of the store later this year. Schwartz says SugarPill celebrates Pride month “by letting people know how proud we are to be a queer-owned business.”
“I love being involved in art projects, such as the “Still Here, Still Queer” projection piece that I spearheaded a few years ago. I always try to have some kind of installation in our windows, and, of course, we are here all weekend with the door wide open, happy to welcome people to the gayborhood.”
If you’re thinking about starting a small business, Schwartz has a few pieces of advice: “Love what you do. Take good care of yourself, and don’t be too proud to ask for help. Do something that matters to the world that you live in. Remember who you are, how you got here, and always give back to those who helped you along the way.” (Speaking of asking for help—you can always reach out to the Office of Economic Development for free consulting and support.)