On the corner of Cole Ave. and Hall Street in Williamstown, the old general store turned bike repair shop turned Leo’s Luncheonette is now a gathering space and an “abolitionist herbal shop” that offers anything from tarot readings to a cup of coffee.
If you step inside Wild Soul River, you may become drawn to the big yellow door on the back wall that leads to energy healing rooms, Jimi Hendrix on the record player and a book on Soul Fire Farm on the shelf, or anti-racism or contemporary poetry, or an aroma of lavender-chamomile tea drifting out from behind the counter.
The shop is owned and opereated by trained herbalist Rebecca Guanzon, and educator and farmer justin adkins.
Guanzon has been working with survivors of trauma and using trauma informed care practices for more than 20 years, and adkins has been working in higher education since 2008 with a focus on diversity, equity and inclusion and restorative practices for community living.
They have filled the shop with a variety of local and sustainable goods. The shelves hold crystals, candles, tarot decks, essential oils and more. adkins and Guanzon emphasize local — Wild Soul River has a stock of oils, serums and herbal cosmetic products made by local artist BellaVendetta, and Mycomorph Kombucha, among other Berkshire products.
“It may seem eclectic on the surface, but it is not,” adkins said. Every product in Wild Soul River is funneled through the lenses of abolition and herbalism; if it contradicts or does not connect to either theme, the shop will not have it.
“We are not going to have quiche,” he said, joking about their carefully selected inventory, “we are not going to carry Tom Clancy either.”
The books that line Wild Soul River’s shelves are chosen purposefully, with many focusing on anti-racism and amplifying the voices of people of color.
“We have to be careful not to become (entirely) a bookstore,” adkins said, as he joked about his love of books.
Herbalism is the base of everything in the store.
“It all starts at the community level,” adkins said, “Herbalism is the medicine for the people. All of our families did this, we just lost the language for it.”
‘It all starts at the community level…’ — justin adkins
Guanzon spoke on the deep listening she practices when helping someone with a reading or finding a healing herbal mix, and she considers her work as the empowerment for anyone in need in Williamstown.
“Herbalism is a real community care that we need to return to, where people can tell their worries and heal,” she said.
The counter of the shop is filled with the earthly colors of herbs for tinctures, salves or teas, and even some herbs to light as a cleansing smoke. adkins and Guanzon focus on abundant plants in the bioregion, like cedar, lavender and rose.
Guanzon encourages people to look in their backyards to see what their own natural gardens can provide. Although she makes her own dandelion tea, she wants people to collect the small yellow flowers themselves and incorporate that herb into their health regimen.
“In every nook and cranny there is a dandelion,” Guanzon said. “Now we consider them weeds, but they are gifts.”
Guanzon and adkins also grow plants outside the store. They have planted two blossoming garden beds on the side of the building, and they are not selling the herbs and flowers — they are giving these plants free to the community. They want people to walk past the store, pop in to say hello and then grab some purple basil or thyme as they keep walking.
They have a free library set up right outside the shop, set on ground where they have dug up the grass they felt was not sustainable.
‘As time goes on, we hope to increase that percentage as reparations for the harm that white people have done.’ — justin adkins
Guanzon and adkins’ “community care” extends out of their street corner as well. One percent of their sales goes directly to the Stockbridge-Munsee community of the Mohican Nation in Williamstown, and another one percent goes to Black and Brown farmers in the Berkshires.
“As time goes on, we hope to increase that percentage as reparations for the harm that white people have done,” adkins said.
Inside the store, they are working to make the space accessible, with accessible restrooms and a wheelchair ramp to be installed by October.
Guanzon’s practices are inclusive to all, and she has encountered many kindred spirits that live in the neighborhood. She shares her dedication to holistic care through energy healings, one-on-one herbal consults, workshops crystals and more. On a given day, you may walk in and find her sharing a fun new tarot card set with a fascinated tween, as adkins makes tea for an older gentleman passing through.
adkins and Guanzon believe deeply in the healing power of a meeting space and are eager for their shop to become a place for students and community members to work and spend time.
“We ask everyone that comes in: are you from the neighborhood?” adkins said, “We want people to gather here.”
They are building a local following over time, they said. Just as it takes six weeks for an herbal tincture to be ready, adkins and Guanzon understand that it is a process to gain a larger presence inside their store.
“We are just figuring out the flow of what works,” adkins said.
They recently placed a community bulletin board in their “Community Corner,” and they are excited to build relationships with different groups and people in Williamstown.
“We believe in community ability to sustain projects and benefit the collective,” they explain on their website.
“People need to be empowered,” Guanzon said.
Guanzon and adkins are working on their social media platforms, especially TikTok, and @wildsoulriverma has gained a following from her lively informational videos from their “apothecary.”
Keep an eye out for an Instagram reel or TikTok soon about a poetry reading or concert at Wild Soul River this fall. Wild Soul River is the hip wellness spot Williamstown was missing all along.