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Nurseries go curbside; Plant stores salvage spring

Nurseries go curbside; Plant stores salvage spring

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Lynn Cressler, president of Rolling Ridge Nursery in Webster Groves, knows a thing or two about running a plant shop.

The business, which celebrated its 61st anniversary in March, has been in her family for five generations. Nearly half of its annual revenue is earned in the spring when annuals, herbs and vegetables are available. But this year, things have been a little different, and it’s unlike anything she’s ever dealt with.

Amid the coronavirus outbreak, business owners across the region have learned to navigate unprecedented territories, adapting to contact-free practices they never expected to use: Bowood Farms, in St. Louis’ Central West End, is offering delivery and curbside pickup for its customers. Sugar Creek Gardens, in Kirkwood, is offering curbside pickup. Many are working to digitize their inventory for web sales.

“When we started realizing what was happening, we encouraged our customers through email and social media to call us and place their orders and we would offer free delivery or free curbside pickup,” said Rolling Ridge’s Cressler.

The velocity at which the calls were received was enough to warrant Cressler purchasing an additional phone line so every customer had a chance to speak with an associate.

“No. 1, it was portable, and No. 2, we had the ability to Skype or send photos of things to customers and they could correspond back and forth via phone or text without tying up the other two lines,” Cressler said.

For Cressler’s nursery and others like it, the next few months will be critical. Though her storefront will be closed to the public in the upcoming weeks, customers can call to arrange pickup or delivery. For those who wish to see specific items in the store’s inventory, Rolling Ridge’s employees can text images and offer advice.

“We don’t have deep corporate pockets and access to investors, like a lot of the big companies do,” she said. “It’s important for nurseries and garden centers because they’re very, very seasonal when you only have a short planting period for a lot of things in our region.”

Still, she said, the influx of support is encouraging.

Lou D’Agrosa, owner of Garden Heights Nursery in Richmond Heights, agrees.

In mid-March, D’Agrosa and his team sent out an email to their customer base, detailing the extra precautions the shop would be taking to protect its customers and staff. And it offered curbside, contactless pickup.

Then, on March 21, St. Louis County Executive Sam Page issued his stay-at-home order, and Garden Heights posted on Instagram that it was closing its doors for a few weeks — but would entertain the idea of continuing its curbside services.

“Flowers and plants bring happiness to people’s lives,” D’Agrosa said. “There’s a connection, and I think more than ever: People need that connection to dig in the dirt and be out in nature.”

In Webster Groves, Maypop Coffee and Plant Shop modified its own operations. On a recent afternoon in mid-March, Laura Caldie, digital marketing director, photographed various plants for online inventory between taking customers’ calls.

“We’re trying to adapt to the situation at hand by trying to bring our sales online, which is definitely something that we never would have anticipated,” Caldie said.

Though the store will be closed until April 22, the website is live, and plants are available for purchase and local delivery. Maypop’s coffeeshop will also be temporarily closed.

Ultimately, Caldie said the biggest priority at this time is ensuring that all customers get a chance to see, purchase and enjoy the plants.

“We really want to provide support for people that don’t feel comfortable leaving their house, so it’s really great that people are still coming in, but there’s a lot of vulnerable folks that don’t have that option,” Caldie said.

“We really just want to make sure that we’re helping out everyone that we can.”

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