Under the Tree Fragrances is one of the more intriguing storefronts on Buckeye Road.
Inside the front window you see row upon row of bottles, each filled with a different-colored liquid. It looks not unlike the science lab you wish you had as a kid.
Walk in, and you’ll smell - well, everything. Peppermint and sage are a couple of the more recognizable scents, but there are a million others too, all combining into a cloud of fragrance that should be cacophonous but somehow isn’t.
It’s sage essential oil that the woman behind the counter is working with as I walk in. She’s adding drops of it to blank sticks of incense. A completed stick burns on the edge of the counter.
Her name is Miss Jeffries, and she’s the mother of the store’s owner, Amir, who’s not currently present. She works at the shop most days, selling an array of pure fragrances, incense ($1 for a package of about 10), whipped shea butter soap and concentrated body wash (both $10.75).
She’s reserved at first, hesitant to talk much about a store she doesn’t own. She presses her son’s business card into my hand and urges me to call him.
And then I notice the index cards.
There are dozens of them, covering an entire end of the front counter. Each one contains as separate inspirational quotation written in Miss Jeffries’ hand.
She smiles wryly when she sees me reading them. “I’m always reading,” she explains. “So when I see something I like, I write it down and hope it helps other people.”
“Inch by inch, everything’s a cinch,” reads one. Another: “Wherever you go, there you are.”
But the one that strikes me most is this: “If you don’t build your dream, someone else will hire you to build theirs.”
“I love that!” I say. “Wait, is it supposed to be motivational or reassuring? Like, don’t worry, someone else will hire you if you don’t have a dream?”
She laughs. “I guess it could be that - better to have a job than not. But what it’s really saying is, it’s best to have your own dream.”
I ask the obvious: if she’s building her own dream.
She considers this. “You know, life happens, things you can’t expect. People you love get sick. So you can’t always be chasing your dreams. But I try.”
A City of Cleveland police officer walks in and buys some pure fragrances and a tub of shea butter soap.
It’s regulars like him who’ve helped Under the Tree survive for some 10 years on Buckeye Road, Miss Jeffries says.
She remembers when Amir first discovered fragrances as a schoolboy. He’d carry vials of them around in his backpack, selling them to whoever would buy.
“I told him as long as it wasn’t drugs, it was fine with me,” she says.
Miss Jeffries, who lives nearby, makes a point of trying to get to know her merchant neighbors on Buckeye.
One time, she made a big hit when she visited the Chinese takeout restaurant next door and said hello to the owner in Chinese. Her grandson, who attends John Hay High School, had been studying the language and taught her a few words.
“Oh, the owner was thrilled,” she recalls. “Of course, then I had to admit I couldn’t say anything else.”
Under the Tree is open Monday through Saturday. Find the store on Facebook here.