Not many garden center retailers would be eager to open a new business a week before the biggest shopping day in the horticulture industry, but Mike Drake, owner of Lake Effect Nursery & Garden Center, decided that there was no time like the present.

The upstate New York retailer, which is operating with a staff of about 4 employees, opened for business over the first weekend of May, a week away from Mother’s Day, a holiday regarded by most garden centers as one of the busiest days of the sales year. Aside from the timing of a mid-spring launch, Drake says the weather has also been a challenge for getting Lake Effect off the ground.

“We just opened [May 6] and of course the weather hasn’t been very good but it’s finally getting traction,” Drake says. “The challenge, really, has been the weather. We held back on getting in our herbs and trees and actual nursery stock. We had snow [after opening], so it’s been a little stressful, getting everything here in between last week when it was cold and this week now that it’s warm to get ready for [Mother’s Day] weekend. But everything is coming together now.”

Drake, who has a background in landscaping, says he was interested in breaking into retail as a way to provide the kind of products that he felt were lacking in his market.

Mike Drake, owner of Lake Effect Nursery & Garden Center, aims to provide hard-to-find nursery stock at his new store.

“I’m a landscape contractor by trade,” he says. “We’ve been doing commercial landscape for multinational companies for about 8 years, so now we’re branching off into this. There aren’t very many garden centers around here that have a good selection of nursery stock in terms of burlap trees and stuff that’s harder to get. We’re looking to have a good selection of everything here.”

To help him expand his expertise into greenhouse stock, Drake says he is working with veteran growers from around the region at Lake Effect.

“I had an interest in the bulk product end of it. Not a huge interest in the greenhouse product until, I guess, the last year or so, I started to be more interested in it,” Drake says. “Because of that, I’ve hired three guys that worked another retailer here locally, [who have been] doing that stuff for the last 15 years.”

As the season progresses and summer business picks up at Lake Effect Nursery & Garden Center, Drake says he hopes to expand his staff with seasonal help and set up a dedicated website. For now, potential customers can follow the new retailer on Facebook.

McDonald Garden Center closing two of three locations

The company’s Virginia Beach store and its seasonal markets will remain open.

By Conner Howard

Citing under-performance in the two affected markets, McDonald Garden Center owner Eddie Anderson confirmed on Tuesday, May 2, that his company will close its retail stores in Hampton and Chesapeake, Va.

A third McDonald Garden Center location in Virginia Beach will become the company’s new focus, Anderson said. The IGC’s seasonal markets, which vary in number and are located between the oceanfront of Virginia Beach and Williamsburg throughout spring and summer, will also remain open.

According to the Virginian-Pilot, a new Virginia Beach location for McDonald Garden Center is planned, but no one from the retailer could confirm by press time.

COURTESY OF MCDONALD GARDEN CENTER

The Chesapeake store first opened in 1991. The Hampton location has been open since 1945, and was purchased by Anderson in 1973. Anderson says the stores in Hampton and Chesapeake have become less profitable recently, necessitating the move to close the under-performing locations and focus on the more successful aspects of the business.

“They’re not nearly as successful ventures as they once were,” Anderson says of Hampton and Chesapeake. “We’re just trying to restructure the company and reposition ourselves for future growth. Our landscape [business] is strong and growing, and we want to pursue that more strongly. Our retail in Virginia Beach is very strong, and we want to help grow that business. With the other two holding us back, we just felt like we couldn’t invest in our strengths.”

Closing the two stores will involve the elimination of roughly 30 McDonald Garden Center jobs, including about 10 full-time employees.

“Some of the personnel will remain with us and go forward with the retail activity,” Anderson says. “Unfortunately, we’ve got to downsize in that segment. It’s a difficult thing when people have been very loyal and with you a long time, but if we can’t support them, we can’t support them.”

Although he remains involved in the operations at McDonald Garden Center, Anderson has handed the reins off to his son Mark, president of the company. He says he’s confident in the next generation’s leadership of the family business.

“I’m excited for where my son is taking the company,” Anderson says. “I think he’s got some great plans going forward, and I’m excited to help with that any way I can.”