Owner Karen Richards stays in tune with Nature at her retail shop in Austin, Texas. Photo by Drew Anthony Smith for Austin Monthly Magazine
“A lot of being close to nature is vibration,” says Karen Richards as she slowly taps a tongue drum with a wooden mallet. Sound waves reverberate throughout her store, causing vibrations that you can feel in your chest, akin to standing front row at a concert. Bedecked in a blue hat atop her long red hair, the owner of Nature’s Treasures sets down the instrument and picks up a singing bowl, running her mallet along its circular edge to create a soothing, harmonic tone.
“Sometimes I’ll do an experiment where I’ll take water out of the tap, put it in two cups, put one in the singing bowl and run it around, then I’ll ask people to taste one, and then taste the other,” she says. “It changes the molecular structure of the water, where the water in the bowl tastes totally different. You can physically experience it shifting and see what the energy does.”
A belief in the life-changing power of energy and healing that comes from natural elements propelled Richards to open Nature’s Treasures two decades ago. Her store is filled with items that invigorate the senses: singing bowls for sound therapy; fragrant sage smudging sticks and incense for burning; brilliant crystals, agates, and geodes in every hue. As she walks around her shop picking up rocks, she lists their individual benefits aloud: lepidolite has a calming effect that improves sleep, she says, while fluorite helps children retain information (a handy mineral to have nearby when studying for a test).
The 69-year-old California native became interested in minerals while living in San Diego during the early 1980s. For most of her career, Richards worked in real estate, moving across the country to cities like Indianapolis and Phoenix for various ventures. But intuitively, she knew she wanted to turn her hobby into a profession. After permanently moving to Austin in 1989, she launched Nature’s Treasures on East Fifth Street in 2000.
The spiritual rock shop became so popular over the next decade that she relocated to its current 14,000-square-foot space on Interstate 35 in 2010, making it the largest metaphysical store in the country. The layout includes a retail area with gems, minerals, jewelry, and fossils from around the world; an event space; an outdoor rock yard; and a lapidary and rough rock division called the “rock depot.”
In a retail area color-coded and arranged by the chakras (Richards always wears a hat to work because “I feel like my crown chakra is so open that I feel nervous and jittery”), her inventory includes everything from 25-cent stones to a $125,000 amethyst geode that is large enough for four people to sit in it. Even those who have never ventured inside the shop have likely driven past its giant billboard on I-35, with Richards sitting inside another massive amethyst geode above the company’s tagline, “We Rock!”
While the science behind the healing properties of rocks is largely inconclusive or dismissive—many skeptics consider it merely a placebo effect—Richards is quick to cite hopeful research findings. “The closest thing to human DNA is quartz crystal,” she says, adding, “What they found out when they tested minerals and humans is that the minerals always vibrate on a higher frequency than we do, and the law of physics proves that the lower vibration always rises to the higher vibration,” she says. Hence the strong energy that people can experience being around and holding the stones: “The rocks bring your body into alignment, so it can heal,” she says.
In addition to all of its product for sale, the store regularly hosts events at the space ranging from astrology and tarot card readings to full moon celebrations and metaphysical author readings. Still, Richards emphasizes, the shop has so much more than just mystical offerings. “I don’t want people to have the notion that Nature’s Treasures is a woo-woo place only,” she says. “Because to me and my vision, it’s important we get back to nature. Being a Virgo, it’s all about health to me. You can’t be healthy unless you’re one with nature.”
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