Nature’s Treasures: Rockin’ Austin Since 2000
by Sheila Julson
The proverb, ‘a rolling stone gathers no moss,’ is frequently used today to refer to those who stay active to avoid stagnation. For Karen Richards, her wanderlust and independent spirit kept her on the move, taking her from coast to coast throughout the United States to live, work and play. She has worked in and owned businesses in real estate, color copy services, and retail office furniture and supplies.
Richards eventually found her calling with Nature’s Treasures, her Austin-based business featuring rocks, fossils, minerals, crystals, home decor, jewelry, oils, smudge, and metaphysical books and card decks. The store’s Rock Depot and Yard offers bulk rock and lapidary equipment and services. With an event space and a metaphysical practitioner program rounding out Nature’s Treasures offerings, the business will celebrate its 20-year anniversary in August. Richards, along with retail manager Michael Kallstrom—who was a customer at Nature’s Treasures as a teen—reflects on how the store has grown into Austin’s go-to source for all things rock and stone.
A Love of Nature Since Childhood
Richards’ father had worked in construction, and her family frequently moved to various job sites. A stay on a family farm in Indiana is where she developed a true passion for the natural world. “When you move every year, you become very independent,” she affirms. “I was always close to nature and felt connected to Mother Nature.”
While working for a corporate real estate agency in California during the 1980s, Richards liked the set hours and routine schedule, but she missed that sense of independence from owning her own agency. To find solace, she went to Tucson, Arizona—known for its annual International Gem, Mineral & Fossil Show— to buy rocks. By the dawn of the 1990s, Richards was ready to move on from the corporate real estate world. She moved to Texas and brought her rock hobby with her.
“It’s hard to make a living selling rocks, so I started another company so I could make a living, with a spiritual agreement that one day, I would make Nature’s Treasures my being,” she relates. “Looking back, even while I was developing the concept and the idea in the back of my mind, that spiritual guidance and connection was always there. I just didn’t see it at the time.”
Richards’ next venture, Texas Office Product Supplies (TOPS), specialized in office furniture and supplies. She displayed her rock pieces around the business space. “I started putting pieces on the desk and on bookshelves,” she says. “People who came into my office supply shop would buy a desk and buy a mineral.”
After the office supply business ran its course, Richards carved out space for Nature’s Treasures inside a TOPS location on Fifth Street, as well as her other locations on Kramer and Braker, and in Georgetown. In 2010, Richards found the current 14,000 square-foot location on Interstate Highway 35, in Austin, where she could bring all three locations under one roof.
Kallstrom, Nature’s Treasures retail manager, is a native Austinite. He always got good grades in school and was valedictorian of his high school class. To reward him for getting straight A’s, his mother took him on mini-field trips. “I either wanted to go to a comic book store, or go to Nature’s Treasures,” he recalls.
He started working at Nature’s Treasures in the summer of 2005, after his freshman year of college. “And I just stuck around,” laughs Kallstrom, who originally planned to major in epidemiology but later realized he didn’t want to work in a stressful laboratory. “Through an introductory geology class, I rediscovered a passion for rocks and minerals. I saw potential for a career, so I switched gears and started studying geology and took a natural liking to it,” he says.
Kallstrom has a Bachelor of Science in Earth Sciences from Rice University. In 2012, he earned a Master of Science in Geosciences from The University of Texas at Austin.
A Constant Evolution
Kallstrom observes that prior to the three Nature’s Treasures locations merging, each had its own unique customer base: the Fifth Street location drew people interested in the metaphysical and spiritual properties of quartz crystal, amethyst or other stones, or those seeking sage smudge sticks for cleansing rituals. The Kramer and Braker location offered lapidary services and attracted people that wanted to cut and polish rocks. The client base in Georgetown frequently sought fossils for home décor.
“There’s been a constant evolution of products we carry,” Kallstrom notes. “At Fifth Street, we used to have lots of natural stone beads, and then so many bead stores opened throughout Austin that we didn’t need to be the bead people anymore. Our inventory and products always evolved with the community at large.”
Richards adds that Nature’s Treasures didn’t start out with a metaphysical concept. “I opened it just as rock store. There really wasn’t any concept as to what they could do,” she says, although at that time she’d had a mild interest in New Age arts such as astrology. Prompted by customer interest, Richards began researching the healing and wellness properties of stones and gems.
When Richards brought all three locations together, she was able to not only merge their products, but also their communities. “I noticed many of our lapidary customers began exploring the spiritual and metaphysical properties of the stones. It became an opportunity for the community to grow their personal interests, as well, because we started seeing people having more conversations with each other and our employees,” Kallstrom says.
In addition to the retail space, the Rock Yard and the Depot, Nature’s Treasures has two event spaces—a 1,200 square foot room geared toward private events, classes or workshops; and a 2,500 square foot open space auditorium that is ideal for lectures and large workshops. The Rock Yard and Depot focuses on bulk and lapidary materials, as well as larger pieces for landscaping or home décor. “There aren’t many places where you can pick your own home décor stone,” Richards notes, adding that they’ve donated landscaping rocks to Zilker Botanical Gardens, neighborhood pocket parks such as Grackle Green Pocket Park and to Dell Children’s Hospital.
The practitioner program features specialists in healing crystals, reiki, psychic mediumship, astrology, sacral chakra wellness, tarot card reading and more. “The practitioners have generated much customer interest,” says Richards, who notes that although in-person services are temporarily on hold due to the COVID-19 pandemic, they’re still seeing clients remotely.
“The practitioners’ remote readings provide people with guidance and comfort during this time, and we encourage people to reach out to them and utilize their services. They may resume in-person services in July, depending on the pandemic situation,” affirms Richards, who adds that during the Stay Home-Work Safe order, online sales have spiked, particularly in the areas of cleansing incense, sage and oils.
Nature’s Treasures is what Richards has been manifesting and hoping for throughout her life. “It was really scary being closed during the pandemic,” she concludes, “and we appreciate the support of our customers. They’ve been phenomenal ever since I opened 20 years ago.”
Nature’s Treasures is located at 4103 N. Interstate Hwy. 35, Austin. For more information, call 512-512-472-5015 or visit NTRocks.com.
Sheila Julson is a freelance writer and contributor to Natural Awakenings magazines throughout the country.