Customers lament closing of Stacy’s Garden Center

news@enquirerherald.comOctober 10, 2013 

— Lisa Mitchell of Clover has been shopping at Stacy’s Garden Center between York and Clover for a dozen years, in spring and fall. She was disappointed to learn it will close next month.

“It was really nice to us to have a hometown place to go,” said Mitchell, who purchased mums, pansies, azaleas and other flowers there. “It was a sweet memory and it’s going to be sad to see that go away.”

Jeannette Montgomery, who lives in Lake Wylie, said she has been coming to Stacy’s for 15 years. “This is where you came when you couldn’t find something,” she said. “And they always had it.”

Montgomery, an avid gardener, said she purchased poinsettias from Stacy’s during the holidays, as well as pansies, mums and a variety of trees and shrubs. “It’s the end of something that was very special,” she said. “All of us out here, we knew we could go to Stacy’s.”

Metrolina Greenhouses of Huntersville, N.C., which recently bought the entire Stacy’s operation, said Stacy’s Garden Center will close Nov. 3, after 39 years of operations.

Abe Van Wingerden, co-CEO of Metrolina, said stand-alone garden centers are getting more difficult to operate because of competition from Lowe’s, Home Depot and Walmart – which buy plants from Metrolina’s wholesale operation.

The announcement was bad news for many of Stacy’s patrons, who said they enjoyed the center’s variety, the healthy condition of its plants and the assistance they received in making choices.

“They could help you choose,” said Montgomery. “And they always seemed to have everything. I’ve appreciated all their stuff.”

Patti James said she has been driving from Charlotte to shop at Stacy’s for a decade. “The herbs were fabulous,” she said. “You could find anything you wanted. They had a better selection, and they were fresh and healthy.”

Linda Koon, who managed the garden center on U.S. 321 north of York, said she appreciates the support of Stacy’s customers. Koon said she knows customers will miss the care and service Stacy’s provided — and that churches will miss the farm’s lush poinsettias at the holidays.

Koon, 63, is the younger sister of Stacy’s founder Louis Stacy Jr., the driving force behind the garden center and the wholesale business that he built with Koon and their parents, Ruby and Louis Sr.

Louis Jr., 77, became ill in 2010 and is no longer able to work. But Koon recalled humble beginnings of the business that began in 1968, when Louis Jr. came home from serving in the U.S. Navy.

She said her mother, Ruby, was working at a local zipper plant that was air conditioning its building that summer. The business was bricking up its windows and selling them, Koon said.

“He saw those when he went to pick her up from work, and he had an idea to build mother a greenhouse,” Koon said. “She had always loved plants and she had learned how to sow tomato plants. She sold those locally and supplemented their income.”

Koon said her father, Louis Sr., was a farmer and carpenter, who helped Louis Jr. build the first greenhouse with the windows from the zipper plant. “It was definitely a homemade job,” Koon said. “And they made it for my mother.”

But the family did sell tomato plants and other items from the greenhouse, Koon said, netting about $1,500 the first year. “And that was enough,” she said, “to start another greenhouse.”

The second and third greenhouses built by the Stacys were fiberglass with wood supports, but still homemade, she said. However, Louis Jr. purchased the fourth greenhouse, which was rounded with metal supports, and much larger, at 30 feet wide and 100 feet long.

“You could stand at the front of it and you could see all the way to the back,” Koon said. “We thought we had arrived at that point.”

Koon said she attended then Winthrop College, earning a history degree with a teaching certification. She began teaching at Great Falls High School, but after a year, she knew teaching was not her calling.

She asked Louis Jr. for a job with the Stacy’s operation, and he put Koon to work in the greenhouses. It was a learning experience for Koon, who said she knew nothing about gardening.

“I always tell my customers, I did not know a marigold from a petunia,” she said. “Customers would walk in and say, I would like a dozen petunias and I would say, show them to me and I’ll sell them to you.”

After the fourth greenhouse was purchased, Koon said, Louis Jr. started talking about opening a garden retail center. He built the garden center with her in mind, she said.

“And I did learn to tell a marigold from a petunia — and a lot more,” she said.

The garden center, which now includes 7 acres of land, was started on 2 acres where Koon’s grandparents once lived; they sold the property to her parents. Over the years, she said, Louis Jr. purchased more property, both for the garden center and for the surrounding wholesale garden operation.

In 1985, she said, the family went on a trip to visit other garden centers “because that’s what we did for fun.” Louis saw mums being grown outside in 8-inch pans and got an idea, she said.

“He said, ‘I could do that,’” Koon said. “And when he came back from that trip, he graded off the first two beds that were part of farm one and started with mums. We started with 2,000 mums.”

In the 1990s, Koon said, Louis Jr. purchased more property, including more than 200 acres from neighboring peach farmer Ben Smith. At its largest, Stacy’s included about 250 acres, most of it used for the wholesale operation, which was divided into three separate farms. It raised flowers, trees and shrubs and sold them to garden centers in 26 states.

Koon said her father died in 1990 and her mother in 2002; both had helped build the business, which also employed many family and friends. “Mother loved those plants,” Koon said. “She was all about production, how many flats she could do in a day, how many baskets she could make.”

In recent years, she said, Stacy’s business was hurt by the economy and also by weather. When Hurricane Sandy hit, for example, sales fell because that area was part of Stacy’s market.

Financial troubles continued this year, she said, when the farm was beset by a cold, wet spring and other troubles. She said Stacy’s started looking for a buyer, and had approached Metrolina Greenhouses.

When Stacy’s entered bankruptcy in May, the company went up for bid, and Metrolina purchased the company. “They are a wonderful family, and we’ve known them,” Koon said.

But Metrolina, which finalized the purchase on Aug. 30, does not have any retail centers. The Stacy family did not include its Shelby, N.C., garden center as part of the sale to Metrolina.

Metrolina has been working to combine the two companies, while maintaining Stacy’s workforce. All Stacy’s employees, including Koon’s two children and her husband, Wayne, as well as employees of the garden center, were offered jobs with Metrolina.

Koon said seeing the garden center close is bittersweet. “I would love to see someone come in and use this property, or at least the greenhouses. We don’t want it to be empty,” she said.

Koon said she plans to take some time off when the center closes, after working for 39 years, but she hopes to eventually find work elsewhere. “I don’t know that I will be happy staying at home,” she said.

And she said she has enjoyed Stacy’s customers and its employees. “My customers have been wonderful through the years; we’ve had some really nice people. “And everybody who worked here loved it. They just put everything into it. It was always a beautiful place.”

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