ALLENDALE, Mich., (WOOD) — Greenhouses and gardening businesses are back open after Gov. Gretchen Whitmer loosened restrictions on nonessential businesses.
Countryside Greenhouse on Lake Michigan Drive in Allendale opened its doors to customers Monday morning for the first time this season. Shoppers adorning masks and gloves say they were happy to see things inching closer to normal.
“They have so many choices of so many plants, perennials, annuals and trees,” customer Judy Jansen said as she shopped with her husband.
The store was originally set to open March 30, but due to the stay-at-home order, it was delayed. Many customers say the store is a part of their annual shopping and when they saw it was opening this week, they wanted to be there early.
“I got everything all prepped. Now, I just have to plant,” customer Dianne Nanzig said as she stood with two carts worth of greenery. “I was surprised. I thought (the store) would be packed. I thought I’d have to wait in line. I got right in and it’s clearer than other years.”
Business owner Dale Buist says you can normally find lines of cars wrapping around the parking lot. He says the spring is usually their busiest time of the year, but this year was very uncertain.
“We are thrilled to be open. I’m wearing a mask so you can’t see the big smile on my face,” Buist said as he stood next to a row of lavender.
Buist says over the last few weeks, they were forced to lay off the majority of their 200 employees. Their staff had been cut down to 35 essential workers who were responsible for caring for the plants.
“We went into a holding pattern and the worst things looked, the more of a pattern we went into, holding our product,” Buist said.
Buist says they did lose a few crops but were able to maintain most of their plants. He says when the governor made the announcement Friday to allow them to reopen, they hit the ground running. In two days, they worked to quickly hire back most of their staff.
Buist says they’re looking to hire all 200 staff members back as soon as possible. They say the more staff they have assisting customers, the more time they can cut off of shoppers’ trips. They’re also looking to hire some truck drivers for delivery service.
The greenhouse also changed several policies to keep customers safe: Employees now must wear masks, there are no plant displays in the main aisles to leave more space for social distancing and a security guard is at the front door ensuring customers wear the proper protective gear. Employees are regularly sanitizing carts and surfaces too.
They’re also asking customers not to all visit the store at once.
“We’ve got a good crowd, so that’s what we need, but we also are not by any means at capacity. That’s also what we need,” Buist said. “We want to assure people that the 16 acres of plants will be here for six to eight weeks long. There’s no need to be in a hurry or panicked that you won’t get them.”
Customers say they’re happy they can support this small business again.
“This is one of Michigan’s livelihoods: The plant industry. And we’ve got to get our economy back moving and we can’t be stagnant anymore,” Jansen said.
The owners say they’ve accepted the changes as their new normal.
“This is not a year about profitability. It’s about doing the job and keeping the machine in place and keeping the people all working. Profit will come next year and the year after,” Buist said.
Countryside says they’ll be changing their hours for the foreseeable future. Currently, the store is open from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday.
The owner says the will likely continue closing early and plan to implement an early morning shopping hour for immune compromised and elderly customers.