Garden Centers Face Uncertain Summer Season
Garden centers take different approaches to business in the wake of Governor Tim Walz’s stay-at-home order modification deeming them essential. Some are offering curbside sales. Others are limiting customers in the store.
Bachman’s Garden Center Open for Business
The Governor’s modification was good news for Karen Bachman Thull of Bachman’s. Her stores, including the Plymouth location, partially opened to in-person customers Saturday. While areas selling home decor, greeting cards, and floral arrangements remained closed, the indoor greenhouse and outdoor garden center were open. Bachman Thull says it’s just in time for gardeners to be starting seeds and cold-tolerant annuals like pansies.
“The shopping experience will look different,” says Bachman Thull, “but people can still stop by to get gardening essentials like soil, seeds, fertilizer, and plants.”
Dundee Nursery Making Changes
Meanwhile, several miles west on Highway 55, Dundee Nursery is staying closed to foot traffic despite being declared essential. “We have a responsibility for our employees and our customers,” says store manager Melissa Wachutka. “We do have to play it safe.” The store is offering curbside pickup and is working on establishing an online shopping portal which should be available in early May. Plans are also in the works to re-open, but not until staff feels the store’s configuration will lower the risk of coronavirus infection for customers and staff.
“When and if we open to the public completely, we probably won’t open the inside of the store right away,” says Wachutka. “We have way too many modifications to do to make it safe.”
That will probably mean lost revenue, but Wachutka is optimistic that the store will weather the COVID-19 storm. “We have an absolutely fabulous clientele base,” she says. “They’re calling, saying ‘how are you guys gonna do this, we want to get our plants from you.'”
Heidi’s GrowHaus Sees Future Silver Lining
Plymouth resident Heidi Heiland, owner of Heidi’s GrowHaus & Lifestyle Gardens in Corcoran, says dealing with COVID-19 is a full time job in itself. “We have been spending so much time on communicating with our team, and with our customers, and with our vendors to have business as usual,” she says. “And then it still isn’t business as usual.” Heiland had feared she would have to contact vendors and cancel already-growing orders if she couldn’t open for the spring gardening season. The governor’s declaration that her business is essential relieved that pressure, but that doesn’t mean she can relax.
“We’re in a real life crisis situation that we’re trusting each other and leaning on each other for,” Heiland says. Re-working her greenhouse to allow safe foot traffic is only part of the equation. The business has been talking about adding online ordering capabilities, and the coronavirus crisis has accelerated those plans. “We’ve been wanting to do e-commerce for years, and we just haven’t prioritized it,” says Heiland. “Well guess what! We’ve got it up and running, and it’s pretty dang good.”
Heiland’s business also includes landscape design, installation, and maintenance. She says figuring out how to keep crews both working and safe has been a challenge. Heiland has started providing soap and jugs of water so employees can wash their hands on job sites that don’t have outside water turned on yet. She’s encouraging employees to take their temperature before coming to work, and trying to keep the same people on the same crews to avoid potential cross exposure if someone should unknowingly have the COVID-19 virus. To add to the obstacles, some employees can’t come to work because they have kids at home that need to be watched.
Despite the challenges, Heiland is convinced the steps her company has taken will keep employees and customers safe. She says there’s a silver lining to the coronavirus outbreak. People are discovering a renewed interest in gardening both as a way to escape the boredom of staying at home, and because fears of food shortages have people talking about expanding their vegetable gardens or starting one from scratch.
“That’s a huge win,” says Heiland. “It’s the same thing like when the bee crisis happened. I’m very sorry for the plight of the bees, but it helped people talk about native (plants).” She adds that part of taking care of the planet is investing in a more eco-friendly food supply. That includes people growing their own food, and not necessarily in a dedicated food garden. “We plant strawberries as ground cover. Blueberries make a great hedge,” she says. “I’m really excited to help teach people more about that.
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