You might be surprised what you can learn at Urban Grow Systems about the role of bats in the recolonization of plants around the world.

This kind of informational tidbit can come up while meandering through the selection of single-ingredient fertilizers at 1605 Isaacs Ave. There’s seabird guano, oyster shell, shrimp meal, alfalfa meal, crab meal, neem seed meal, kelp meal, fish bone meal and, of course, bat guano.

Urban Grow co-owner Michael McGuinn sometimes finds himself traveling down the informational rabbit hole in discussions about the benefits of each product.

“I’m still learning something new every day,” he said.

McGuinn and business partner Brett Walker started Urban Grow Systems four and a half years ago to fill a need in the marketplace for indoor and outdoor growing supplies.

That the timing came around the legalization of marijuana was no coincidence, though only medical marijuana growing was allowed. It led to some awkward exchanges. At least initially.

Some people mistook the business for a dispensary. Some were cautious about being seen in a spot that sold fluorescent grow lights, dehumidifiers and clip fans.

“I think in the beginning there was a bit of a stigma about us,” McGuinn said.

Where marijuana growers started as the stronger ratio of customers — an estimated 70 percent of sales initially likely were going to private growers — more people are now using the store for other gardening needs and finding supplements, pump sprayers, trellis netting, grow bags, worm castings, compost, shears and more. Along the way through the boutique shop, customers can also drop some coins into video arcade games Bad Dudes vs. Dragon Ninja, Carn Evil and Mercs.

Probably 40 percent of customers are produce and flower gardeners or caring for their indoor plants, McGuinn said.

An offshoot of a Santa Barbara-based business that specializes in hydroponic and outdoor growing supplies, Urban Grow Systems owners have seen small retail shops like theirs close at an alarming rate with consolidation of distributors, increasing grow inventory in the outdoor sections of hardware and farm suppliers, and more.

That’s why the end of construction on Isaacs will be an important step for delivering traffic to the business.

There’s demand in the market for products. That’s how the idea for it was planted in the first place.

“We were seeing a need for this kind of store in Walla Walla,” McGuinn said. “It was a combination of seeing something that could be economically solve and feasible.”


Vicki Hillhouse can be reached at 509-526-8321, or on Twitter at

Vicki covers business and economic development, including tourism, the Port of Walla Walla and the Strictly Business column, as well as features. She has been reporting for the Union-Bulletin since late 2001.

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