Michelle Simakis, editor

Being a Cleveland sports fan, “There’s always next year” is a familiar mantra. That’s what we all sighed this past October when the Indians lost to the New York Yankees in a heartbreaking, five-game series, crushing our chances of a shot at not only winning the World Series, but just getting there. After the devastating defeat in 2016, when Cleveland lost the World Series in game 7, fans thought this year would be different. Still, it felt comfortable saying, “There’s always next year,” because we’re just so darn used to losing.

After the Cleveland Cavaliers won the NBA Finals in 2016, many Northeast Ohioans shared similar stories of shock, not knowing how to respond to a monumental win. It seemed as if we didn’t know how to celebrate. Or maybe we were scared to let our guard down and enjoy the win.

Looking over State of the Industry reports published in Garden Center since 2009, the numbers and some of the stories we’re hearing from retailers don’t seem to be matching up, and I’m wondering if independent garden centers are scared to celebrate, too.

Although the Great Recession began in December 2007 and ended in June 2009, those dates don’t mean much to IGCs, families and people who felt the ramifications long after the economic downturn’s supposed end.

In the past few years, most garden centers we’ve talked to said they are just beginning to match their pre-recession sales, so I assumed 2009 and 2010 must have been pretty awful, but the numbers seem to tell a different story.

In 2009, 83% of retailers said sales had increased, and by a lot. Sixty percent said they increased by 10% or more. In 2010, 60% reported increases. We reported similar increases from retailers across the country year to year from 2012 to 2017 in our State of the Industry Report, which you can find on page 16. On average, 62% of IGCs reported sales increases from 2013 to 2017. For the past two years, 83% of garden centers have said they expected profits to increase next year.

There is always more to the story beyond the numbers, of course. You may be thinking: “Retail hit rock bottom after the economic downturn, and it’s taking longer to climb out of that very deep hole. The real ramifications of the recession took some time to make an impact. A lot of garden centers closed. Operating a business is expensive, and profits aren’t keeping up.”

That all may be true, but there is good news: the popularity of edibles and succulents, the resurgence of shop local and the housing market, the focus on the environment and planting gardens to help pollinators. The desire to decorate with plants, to create retreats at home and in the garden.

Retailers shared their thoughts on the state of the industry and how business has been since the recession on page 42. Many said the industry was good, but some said they are still recovering.

Molbak’s Garden + Home CEO and advisory board member Julie Kouhia put it this way: “I wonder if part of the reason that we still seem to be in ‘recovery mode’ is that we are really in ‘discovery mode’ — while the business is improving and getting stronger, it isn’t really the same business.”

Looking at the industry with a critical eye is important, but finding reasons to be optimistic is just as essential. Otherwise, it’s easy to miss those opportunities, wins and reasons to celebrate when they come along.

Michelle Simakis