Throughout the COVID-19 quarantine, people have been finding new and innovative ways to keep themselves busy. One of the most popular sources of distraction seems to be home gardening, as many residents have been using their new-found downtime to test out their green thumbs.
That’s been good news for a couple of local businesses, which have found a way to prosper at a time when so many establishments have been scrambling to keep themselves afloat.
“We can barely keep enough items in stock for all the demands,” stated Cheshire Nursery owner Rick Beebe. “People are planting veggies and flowers like crazy.”
Beebe credits the boom in sales to the COVID-19 pandemic, and the fact that many other local businesses had to close while his remained open.
“We were lucky enough to remain open throughout the height of the pandemic. We were deemed an essential service,” he explained. “I think a lot of it has to do with the fact that weekend sports were canceled and no one has anything to do, but they want to be outside.”
According to Beebe, vegetable plants and perennials have been flying off the shelves at record numbers.
Cheshire Nursery has been a staple in Cheshire for over a century. Beginning as a seedling grower and retailer that shipped to customers all over the country beginning in the mid-1800s, the business eventually expanded to become a full retailer, complete with a store for local residents.
The nursery was purchased by Beebe and his brother Bill in 2000, and the new owners went to work improving the establishment — from installing a large greenhouse in 2005 to a renovation in 2009.
While Cheshire Nursery has done better than most during this pandemic, it doesn’t mean it’s been business as usual for the facility. The public health crisis means that safety has become paramount, and Beebe acknowledges that his team is prepared to assist customers as safely as possible.
“We’ve completely redone some of our greenhouses and our entire outdoor area,” he added.
Cheshire Nursery also moved quickly to offer curbside pickup which became a popular offering for many businesses when Governor Ned Lamont ordered almost all non-essential businesses to close in mid-March. That service, Beebe admits, helped to save the nursery.
In addition, Beebe has also begun selling facial coverings and masks at his store, which has helped Cheshire Nursery raise money for the local Food Pantry.
“We have raised over $10,000 with the mask sales for the Cheshire Food Pantry, and we really want to give back in any way we can,” Beebe adds. “We have been so fortunate to have such a great community in Cheshire.”
Setting foot inside Cheshire Nursery, the new changes are obvious. The multiple greenhouses are wide open, allowing ample space for customers to walk through the aisles. Groups of plants are spread out in order to ensure social distancing compliance, a majority of the checkout process has moved outdoors, and every employee has a mask.
While Beebe’s business seemed to be booming since the start of the pandemic, another local nursery had a bit of trouble getting started in April due to the poor weather.
“In April, we didn’t really see a lot of business because the virus was still on everyone’s mind, and the weather was so bad,” said Dan Dietrich of Dietrich Gardens. “But once May hit, all of our vegetables and stuff began flying off the shelves. June so far has been the same”
For Dietrich, he believes the increase in sales has to do with all the free time people have on their hands.
“People are clearing out a little more of their yard than they normally would, or finding blank spots in their yard where there normally wouldn’t be,” he explained. “People are adding a little extra to everything this year, and they’re spending more time in their beautiful homes.”
Dietrich Gardens doesn’t trace its Cheshire roots back as far as Cheshire Nursery, but the local business has been up and operational since 1985. What began as a 35-acre farm leased in Cheshire, Dietrich and his wife Kim eventually transitioned from vegetable crops to flower production via greenhouses.
The couple purchased a 16-acre farm, The Garden, in Woodbury in 1986 and have been making improvements to both their locations since. In 2003, Dietrich Gardens went through a major renovation that transformed the property and established a new Garden Center for customers to visit.
Dietrich’s business operates under one, very large and spacious greenhouse, which, he confirmed, has been reworked to suit the new COVID-19 guidelines.
“We have plastic barriers up at the registers and are definitely considering safety first,” he added.
Dietrich’s greenhouse looks similar to Cheshire Nursery in terms of CDC compliance and spacing. Dietrich has also moved the cashier area outside.
Both nurseries also have indoor areas that are open to the public as long as customers abide by the social distancing and facial covering recommendations put out by Chesprocott and the CDC.