Sacred Grove owner Birch helps a customer at his Soquel Avenue shop. Photo by Chip Scheuer.
On any given day, downtown Santa Cruz bustles with buskers, magicians, and even “energy readers” who will tell your fortune for spare change. The retail establishments include multiple New Age shops, the Serpent’s Kiss witchcraft supply shop and, until recently, the Happy High Herb Shop—an establishment selling legal high-inducing herbs such as salvia leaf.
When the Happy High Herb Shop’s property at 227 Cathcart St. became available recently, Birch (born Michael Correll), the owner of Soquel Avenue witchcraft supply store Sacred Grove, decided to apply in hopes of gaining more foot traffic into his store with a downtown location. But according to Birch, the landlord of the Cathcart property, Robert Mariolo, came to visit the Sacred Grove shop and decided not to give them a chance to apply for the downtown property.
“He looked around the shop for a few seconds and said, ‘This is a little too far out for me, you have strange merchandise. Lets end this here,’” says Birch.
Believing the shop is being discriminated against on religious grounds, Birch is now contacting lawyers to pursue a suit against Mariolo, who did not respond to our requests for comment.
Birch says he contacted the ACLU, who weren’t sure how to help him. The issue has stumped city officials, as well.
“They’re a retail shop. It’s not a church. I have no idea whether to say whether their suit would have merit,” says the city’s Economic Development Coordinator Peter Koht.
While he shops for attorneys and explores options, Birch says he is refraining from using magical means to exact revenge.
“We’re trying to keep it above board. We don’t go out and hex people,” says Birch. “Calling on justice is always allowed, and we’re not ruling that out. But right now we’re calling on justice through the regular, legal means.”