New rules when shopping for your yard

New rules when shopping for your yard

Tim McCutcheon, general manager of Attleboro Farms in North Attleboro, Mass., places mandevilla plants on a cart while assembling a curbside pickup order. He’s encouraging customers to use curbside pickup as the primary way to purchase gardening supplies this spring. (Breeze photo by Melanie Thibeault)

From cleaning up yards and mulching to planting shrubs and starting new vegetable gardens, people are finding ways to stay busy while staying home, but buying the supplies to complete those projects looks a bit different this spring.

Fortunately for lawn and garden centers in Rhode Island, they were allowed to reopen on April 27 just in time for what’s typically their busiest month of sales in May, and shop owners are following new rules to get people the items they need.

“We want to help people out who are reluctant to leave their houses,” said Nicholas Polseno, owner of Scituate Nursery in North Scituate, on the store’s new services including curbside pickup, deliveries, and individual appointments.

All of the businesses that spoke with The Breeze are offering curbside pickup and deliveries, and customers are encouraged to order products in advance by phone, email, or online to limit “no touch” sales. Specifics vary by each business.

Per the state’s rules issued in mid-April, customers were not allowed inside garden centers, including greenhouses and centers that are part of big box stores, but according to a press release last week detailing the governor’s plans for phase 1 of reopening the economy, non-critical retail stores, including garden centers, will be allowed to reopen in-person operations, including for limited in-person browsing.

Per these regulations, one person is allowed to browse for every 300 square feet of space, and every staff member and customer will need to wear a mask at all times. The governor said she still encourages pre-ordering and in-store pick-up as the safest options.

Scituate Nursery is open year-round, but makes about 60 to 65 percent of its revenue in the spring, so it’s important that they’re allowed to be open right now, Polseno said.

“We’re very concerned customers won’t want to come out and we’ll get stuck with the products,” he said, adding “I’m staying optimistic.”

Tim McCutcheon, general manager of Attleboro Farms in North Attleboro, Mass., agreed, saying May and June are the busiest months for the store, accounting for 35 percent or more of annual revenue. “May pretty much pays all my bills throughout the year,” he said. “We were very nervous something would shut us down right now.”

Customers are allowed inside garden centers in Massachusetts while following social distancing rules, but McCutcheon said he’s strongly encouraging people to use curbside pickup.

As of the end of April, about 25 people had used the new service, which was minimal compared to overall transactions, he said. “I want to see the numbers go up.”

McCutcheon will take pictures of items to send to customers to review, and people can place orders over the phone, not online, he said.

Darcy Muir, manager of Northland Farm and Garden Center in Cumberland, said she’s hoping this will be a strong gardening year. Sales were pretty good in April, she said, as people were bored at home and anxious to get started on vegetable gardens despite it being still too cold to start last month.

For hardware stores, which are listed as essential businesses, customers have been allowed inside but must follow social distancing rules.

“Business has changed a little bit,” Michelle Deschamps, owner of Leeway Ace in North Smithfield, told The Breeze. “We are seeing roughly the same sales amounts with bigger transactions.” Instead of a customer coming in once a week to buy seed, for example, that person makes a larger purchase that will last a few weeks.

While Richard Depault, owner of Depaults Ace Hardware in Cumberland, said the new regulations have impacted business, he’s “happy beyond belief that we’re allowed to be open.”

The number of customers allowed inside the store at once is limited, and they’re being asked to make a list ahead of time and adhere to social distancing rules, he said.

Depault said he hasn’t seen people stocking up on supplies, but said he’s noticed people are doing more home projects since they’re stuck at home, including painting and yard work. “The fertilizer is moving,” he said.

Muir, McCutcheon, and Deschamps all said vegetable seeds have been a popular sale so far this year, with Deschamps saying they sold more seeds this April than in the past several years.

One thing that’s remained the same, these owners agreed, is community support. “The community is awesome,” Depault said. “They’re doing everything they can with the restrictions that we have.”

Despite a chilly, wet April and an economic shutdown, Northland Farms garden center on Pine Swamp Road, Cumberland, is preparing for better times in the May planting season. Here, Darcy Muir waters the flowering annuals offered for sale. (Breeze photo by Tom Ward)
Customers, wearing masks and standing six feet apart, wait outside Depaults Ace Hardware in Cumberland last month. Adhering to social distancing guidelines, only five customers are allowed inside at a time, and they are being asked not to browse but just pick up items they need.