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From magical healing to pretty on a shelf, crystals seem to be everywhere for everyone

Worcester Telegram & Gazette
Worcester Telegram & Gazette
 2022-12-01

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If a tornado strikes New England, Chris Fiske is confident his house isn't going anywhere. It's anchored with 8 tons of crystals and rocks from all over the world.

Fiske makes the joke signaling to the sheer weight of his massive collection, though some may interpret it from a spiritual standpoint, given the healing and protective properties many stones are purported to possess.

It's a Tuesday morning in November at the end of a strip mall in Merrimack, New Hampshire, where Fiske is employed. The warehouse-style storefront is flooded with customers, arriving in vehicles bearing license plates from all over the region. Men, women, tattooed, clean cut, young and old − they're all here for the rocks.

Rough Stone.Rocks is a low-cost international supplier of crystals, minerals and rocks sourced from all over the world. Their physical locations in New Hampshire, Ohio and Texas welcome the public in once a month for open houses, while employees like Fiske are packing online orders five days a week. Many customers are buying in bulk − either for their personal collections, art, jewelry or landscaping projects, or to sell in their own stores.

Alex Porada, owner of Rough Stone.Rocks, travels to many of the countries they source from, such as Namibia and Mexico, and has developed friendships with small-scale miners around the globe. He sees the entire process in action − from a hole in the ground to the store shelf.

"There's a lot of mystery and lore around the rock and crystal world," said Porada. "But get on a plane to visit some of these places and suddenly it's not so mysterious. It's a guy with two kids and a wife who goes out during the day and mines some rocks and comes back home at night and eats dinner with his family."

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Some of Earth's oldest creations subject to long-enduring fascination by humans, rocks are far from a new fad, and yet, it's been nearly impossible to miss the "crystal craze" of the last several years.

At Seed to Stem in Worcester, Massachusetts, a nature-based lifestyle shop where foliage is the star of the show and crystals a close second, customers are immersed in a junglelike environment where tables are flecked by glistening milky selenite and deep red garnet placed carefully among every house plant.

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"It's just grown exponentially," said Seed to Stem co-owner Virginia Orlando of their crystal offerings. "Our love of them, our knowledge of them."

Some people admire stones from a geologic and scientific standpoint − obsessed with their formation, history and origins. Others are drawn to their metaphysical properties , the belief that different stones hold different energies. Rose quartz is said to promote feelings of self-love, while amethyst can soothe people when they're anxious.

During the COVID pandemic, crystal popularity grew as people searched for something grounding and healing amid a chaotic time, a slice of the natural world they could hold in their palm. Orlando said Seed to Stem saw a "huge boom" in people purchasing crystals for their homes as a means of bringing comfort and something magical to their personal space.

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Rocks have that effect. People are drawn to them for reasons they can't articulate, even if they're not "rock people," Orlando noted. At Rough Stone.Rocks, Fiske said they often see customers "who find that one rock and all of a sudden they're smiling, having one of the best days they've had in a long time."

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Affordable crystals and minerals at Rough Stone.Rocks

It's not "a wicker basket of eight rocks" at Rough Stone.Rocks, employee Donny Divers snickered. Rather, it's bins and bins as far as the eye can see of crystals and stones you've likely never heard of.

There's green opal from Madagascar, mookaite jasper from Western Australia, shattuckite from Namibia and amazonite from Brazil. Nearly all of the stones are sold in their natural form − rough and unpolished, unlike many of the smaller palm-sized crystals you commonly see for sale in boutique shops.

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Divers has been working at Rough Stone.Rocks for four years. He'd had "enough of IT life" and was already buying stones from Porada. His hobby soon became his job, and now he spends his days with the metallic scent of crushed stone in the air as employees use large hammers to break apart deliveries of 40,000 pounds into sellable sizes.

"Every day you get to see rocks and rocks and rocks," he said.

"We get to look at what nature has produced from all over the world," added Fiske.

During the monthly open houses, Divers said the New Hampshire store regularly sees people making the trek from New Jersey or Maine. They load up entire carts and trays with citrine, blue lace agate, mahogany obsidian and unakite, ranging in size from small nuggets to huge chunks. Some stones for sale would require multiple people to lend muscle − or even a forklift.

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When customers arrive for the first time, they are often overwhelmed, unsure of where to start, Fiske said. The colors and textures ultimately lead the way.

Porada takes pride in offering Earth's riches at incredibly affordable prices, especially for those who are trying to start their own small business and want to buy in bulk. Leopard skin jasper and obsidian , both from Mexico, are sold for $2.99 per pound. Mountain quartz from Zambia is $39.99 for 10 pounds.

Porada recalled a woman who was working as a nurse but started selling minerals online that she purchased from them. She was ultimately able to quit her job and go full time with rocks.

Sourcing crystals directly from miners all over the world

Unlike many other importers or wholesalers, Porada travels to many of the countries from which Rough Stone.Rocks sources material, and he has direct connections with miners, most of whom are making their living via small-scale mining businesses.

Pre-COVID, Porada was traveling six months of the year. But his life as a globe-trotting stone aficionado didn't happen overnight. He originally worked in finance − a cubicle job, he said. Rocks had been his lifelong hobby. Inspired to go full time with it after attending the Tucson Gem and Mineral Show in Tucson, Arizona , the largest of its kind in the world, Porada had to bridge the gap after quitting his office job. He got certified as a firefighter and EMT and worked nights for an ambulance service in Manchester, New Hampshire, while selling rocks on the weekends at local flea markets.

Rough Stone.Rocks started in 2016 in New Hampshire. Porada said the mining operations he focuses on are considered small-scale, or artisanal.

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"I travel around and go to the places where the rocks are known to be had," he said. "One of my favorite places to go is Namibia. All of these people in all of these remote places have these small-scale mining permits. And once you get to know them, it's really cool. It becomes not so much about the rocks. You make so many new friends."

Porada said he often hears what he perceives as people misconstruing crystal mining, saying, "You're taking so much from the Earth."

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He urges people to think about the incalculable amount of minerals that are mined for products and structures of everyday life, like buildings, cellphones and computers − objects that people don't usually think much about when it comes to rocks. For example, iPhones contain aluminum, iron, lithium , gold and copper.

The U.S. imports most of its lithium from countries like Argentina, Chile, China and Russia. The only domestic lithium production comes from one brine operation in Nevada.

In Porada's mind, 1 ton of rose quartz in the bed of a truck as a mode of preservation and enjoyment doesn't quite compare to that.

In many mines used for specific commercial purposes, certain crystals can be "byproducts" and are sometimes discarded. Porada salvages them to be enjoyed and used by people − stone carvers, reiki practitioners, jewelry makers. He mentioned a mine in Mexico where fluorite, a crystal of beautiful greens and purples, is crushed into powder to make materials for concrete and later transported to the U.S.

"Most people would never see that (fluorite) unless somebody went there and said, 'Can I have some not crushed?' " Porada said.

Porada's hauls are typically packed into 20-ton shipping containers, which later arrive at ports all over the U.S. depending on where they're coming from. From there, they're loaded onto trucks that take them to Rough Stone.Rocks' three locations in New Hampshire, Texas and Ohio.

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One of Virginia Orlando's favorite crystals currently on display at her shop is a "huge piece" of Himalayan crystal, which she describes as looking like a tree stump "with massive crystals shooting out of it."

She also loves the pieces of Colombian quartz for sale, "super clear with rusty, earthy colors at the bottom."

"It's weird to say it's a trend now," Orlando said with a laugh. "They're older than time, they're ancient. People have been using crystals for so long."

But from Orlando's view at Seed to Stem, she's seen crystal sales take off in recent years. The store opened in Worcester in 2011, and has been gradually incorporating more crystals, minerals, fossils and animal bones into its inventory over the years.

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"We find from an aesthetic point of view, they just really add something beautiful to a space," she said. "They could be small and by your bedside table, or a massive crystal could be in a grand hall or someone's beautiful living room."

Among Seed to Stem's rare philodendrons and towering cactuses are shining slabs of agate, pointed towers of moonstone and geodes broken open showing off their crystal interior. Many of the display tables are color-coordinated, showcasing an expanse of lustrous whites, earthy ambers and browns, and translucent greens.

Orlando said the shop has long-standing relationships with wholesalers, and they hand-select everything themselves. They also buy in bulk at the Tucson, Arizona, trade show every year. Lately, they're keeping track of what stones people are coming in and asking for.

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Because every stone is "completely unique and completely special," employees often enjoy watching customers react to a piece of nature they find wonderous, for whatever reason it may be. Orlando called it a "complete natural draw.

"A lot of people come up to us and say, 'I don't know why but I have to have this,'" she said. "That's always special. One woman started collecting the Colombian quartz and she was in every week. She said, 'I can't get it off of my mind.'"

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY NETWORK: From magical healing to pretty on a shelf, crystals seem to be everywhere for everyone

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