Carroll Gardens is Closing

cecilia_md7a(7a/Baltimore,MD)June 2, 2009

From today's Baltimore Sun:

Economy blights a beloved garden center

Debt, poor sales forcing owner to close Carroll Gardens at end of this month

By Susan Reimer

Baltimore Sun reporter

June 2, 2009

Carroll Gardens, a quaint and slightly ragged cinder-block garden center at the end of a dirt road in Westminster, is closing at the end of this month after having been a resource for gardeners since the 1930s.

Alan Summers, who has owned Carroll Gardens since 1984 and hosted a garden talk show on WCBM-AM for nearly as long, announced his decision Saturday on the show, stunning customers and disappointing longtime employees who had hoped against hope for a reprieve.

Though Carroll Gardens is having a very good season, last summer was the worst in memory and the debt has finally overwhelmed Summers, he said.

"I'd love to have someone take over," said Summers, whose call-in radio show is ending as well because he doesn't have the money to pay for the air time.

"I love plants. I guess I am just not a very good businessman," said Summers, who has worked 80- and 90-hour weeks in season without a salary for years.

Loyal customers were shocked when the electronic message board on Main Street - by far the most modern element on the aging property - announced the store was closing: "25 percent off everything."

"I am just so sorry," said Lynn Smith of Reisterstown. Both her voice and Summers' broke softly. "I have been coming here for 10 years. The reason is the knowledge here."

Summers' family was in the plant business in Long Island, but he took a long time to return to his roots, as it were, and purchase Carroll Gardens after retiring early from a business career.

"Maybe not the best financial decision I ever made," he said. "But once this stuff gets into your blood. ... Working with the customers was the best part."

What Summers has is a great variety of plants and an even greater store of knowledge about how to care for them. What he does not have, and what many small independents do not have, are the resources to ride out tough economic times that are just beginning to turn around, in this industry at least.

"The armchair psychologist might tell you that in these tough times, people are going to make small indulgent purchases to lift their spirits, and plants are a way to do this," said Jonathan Bardzik, director of marketing and industry relations for American Nursery & Landscape Association.

"And there is anecdotal evidence that people are saying, 'Well, I can't travel and I can't buy a new car, but I can fix up my backyard.' "

Gary Blondell of Gary's Gardens in Severna Park, also a small independent garden center owner, said traffic is good, but the dollar amount of purchases is not.

"They are buying just a little bit of happiness, of cheerfulness or color. A hanging basket. A container garden."

Mother Nature shares the blame, too.

"When the sun is out, we are head of last year's sales," said Carrie Engel of Valley View Farms in Cockeysville. "When it's not, we're not."

Summers, whose modest and sensible landscape redesign projects are the strength of his business, hopes to continue to help those customers by linking with another landscaper.

His 25 employees, however, will be out of work at the end of June unless someone steps in with an infusion of cash to save the business.

Janet Leidy said she knew the closing was coming but was still shocked. She took a job working the cash register 12 years ago as a respite from the difficult care of her mother and sister. She met Bob Leidy, Summers' shrub and tree supervisor, and they married.

"Being here, taking care of the plants. It saved my life," she said. "I'd have worked for free."

Copyright 2009, The Baltimore Sun

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annebert(6b/7a MD)

Wah. I just made pilgrimage a couple of weeks ago. I urge anyone who's never been to go before it's too late. I'm planning on going again this weekend.

    Bookmark   June 2, 2009 at 7:03PM
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Wowzer-that is such sad news. The fact the owner worked for years without a paycheck shows the depth of his love for plants. Really too bad:-(

    Bookmark   June 9, 2009 at 12:44PM
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annebert(6b/7a MD)

I finally went out this weekend. There is apparently some sort of backstory on the IRS demanding a large amount of underpaid taxes. The owner is hoping to make enough money with the current 25% off sale to pay some and settle, and remain in business. I saw people still potting up seedlings, so I guess they are serious.

I bought a number of interesting things. It is fun to poke around there. I would never dream of ordering mailorder. Not just because it's close enough to drive but because it's so disorganized and weedy. Garden Watchdog is full of messages from irate former customers (interspersed with high praise from people who got enormous,healthy plants at reasonable prices). And you can stumble upon a single pot of an unusual/rare item. The owner is clearly a plant lover, and fun to talk to.

    Bookmark   June 24, 2009 at 7:26AM
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