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The Friendly Local Retailer Myth.

All "friendly local retailers", are local but not all "friendly local retailers" are friendly. I was just over on GVs catching up with various gardening blogs when I came across an entry by Trey, owner of The Golden Gecko Garden Center. On his blog ( he's criticizing Home Depot for their latest ad campaign that tries to brand HD as the "friendly local retailer." I'm not sure Trey has much to worry about because I don't think anyone will ever really buy into the idea, but what I don't agree with is how he puts local retailers on a pedestal.

In my 29 years I've only been in one local retailer that lived up to the myth of the "friendly local retailer." It was a few years back and it was a garden center in N. Arizona and the proprietors of the place where straight out of a Norman Rockwell painting and treated me like I was royalty even though I was only there to buy a couple of plugs for a container garden. They even laughed at my dumb joke of just being there to make a "small thyme purchase." I've never experienced anything like it before or afterwards. You know why? Because the "friendly local retailer" is a myth created by Hollywood and people's selective memories of days gone by. Similar to when people wish for those simpler times when men wore hats and women wore gloves while they ignore the fact that during that same time period some people couldn't drink out of all water fountains or that people were attacked for trying to enter schools. Yes, those were the days.

I know it's posh to rag on big box stores and sometimes I participate. But I'm not deluding myself- I know you can have an equally horrible experience shopping at a local nursery center. If you live and garden in Chicago you probably have been to Gethsemane Garden Center and like me, love it. But you know the prices can be steep and while service there is generally very good you can come across an employee having a bad day or a problem with your purchase. Even this "friendly local retailer" has it's detractor. I've been talked down to or just ignored while there but I've also had great service. Similarly at big box stores I've come across my share of surly or angst ridden employees but I've also come across employees who were good and worked there because they loved plants. And to be honest I'd rather deal with the girl who is chatting on her cell phone while ringing me up than the snobby attitudes you can find at a local garden center.

Big box stores are the root of all evil and one day the people running Home Depot will spend eternity in plant hell for crimes committed against annuals. Ok? But I'll still continue to shop there because big box stores make gardening affordable. It's unfortunate but true, gardening isn't a cheap hobby/lifestyle. I live in a working class neighborhood and a lot of the people around me probably couldn't afford to garden if it wasn't for the prices at big box stores.

I always smile when I see a mother getting off the bus with a tray of plant plugs in one hand and a kid in another. It's not uncommon to see people where I live pushing their laundry carts filled with plants down the street for a least a mile in the middle of summer. Or sitting next to someone on the bus obviously still experiencing the high of buying those first plants of the season. It's those little moments along with later seeing those plants on windowsills, flower boxes or in yards around me that really make me feel connected to where I am and the people around me.

Mr Blake do what you have to do to make Home Depot seem like the "friendly local retailer" I personally won't buy into it but if it encourages people around me to beautify our community with plants then I'm all for it.


  1. I agree with a lot of what you wrote about. I have to tell you a story that wouldn't have happened at a Home Depot or their kind. We have a wonderful, quaint downtown area. There's a great, but small shop that features garden art, as well as home dec stuff. It's a fun store and I frequent it often. They know me by site, but probably not by name (but maybe so..). I'm on their email list. A few years ago, they called and said they had a good sale going and they hadn't seen my mom and me for awhile and to please come by. I hesitated, and told them that my mom had recently passed away. They said they were so sorry, and I felt bad that I had made them feel uncomfortable. Five minutes later, they called back and asked if I drop by. When I went to the shop, they had a gorgeous angel statue for my garden in honor of my mom. That doesn't happen at Wallie World. We have a garden shop that is equally as wonderful. You pay more for such service, and it's darn well worth it! Oh! Come by and take a look at my Amaryllis. Your blog made me laugh!

  2. Hi Gardenmoma that was a nice story thanks for sharing it. You're right I don't think something like that could happen in a big box store. But maybe a big box store in a small town where the people know each other? Anyway I'm sorry to hear about your loss and really touched that you shared your story.

    I hope that you laughed at the jokes and not my typos. :0)

    I'll be over to your blog to see your Amaryllis.

  3. What a thoughtful post. (I had to go read the other one and then come back!) You make some excellent points. Competition is good and we, the consumers, benefit from it.

    There's a nursery near where I live that claims to be "your" local nursery...however, the employees are underpaid, not particularly knowledgeable about the plants they sell...and they use some of the same suppliers as the big box stores but charge a lot more for an identical plant. Good deal? I don't think so.

    For me, I'll take the cheaper price!

    I enjoy your blog!

  4. Amen Amen! Home Depot and Lowes around here in downstate Illinois have some of the friendliest and also some of the lamest associates. But none come close to "Wallyworld" or you know... Walmart. I am lucky. Near to us in another small town is a home nursery run by a handfull of wonderful friendly employees. They are also the most reasonable of any nursery or home store. When I go I always fill my trunk full of plants because with their prices, you can!
    I love your comments about crimes against annuals. Our Kmart is the worst. I just want to shout out, SOMEONE WATER THESE PLANTS!

  5. @gotta garden.

    Thanks for the comment. You just made me realize something on his blog he mentions that a lot of nurseries have gone out of business and some rightfully so, and how the disappearance of those companies have helped his sales. I'm all about the cheaper price too.

    @pmo3ws sometimes the smallest operations can have the best prices. There's one that is run by one person in a parking lot of a strip mall near me and they have the best prices sometimes. Last season I bought a large potted mum topiary from them for 1.50 and I am still kicking myself for passing up the variegated Day Lilies for 5.00 at the end of season sale. They even had kikis on the stalks! I hope I learned a lesson.

  6. Nice post. I've been thinking of doing a defense of/devil's advocate post too, but I think you did a better job than I would have.

    We have lots of local small business nurseries, one of which has great plants with a snooty attitude and high prices, two of which are just businesses, and the one - the one I try to give my money to - is a small home run business that opens up on weekends.

    So the local places are great, if you can find a friendly one, and the box stores are great, if you need a lot for a little.

    If I had a local organic grower, I'd go there. But...

  7. Jenn,

    Go ahead and do it. I held back a lot in mine and time a time constraint lead to me leaving out a couple of more points. Everyone has a different voice and a different spin. You're would be just as valid. If you do one come back and link it to this post.

    I'd also be interested in reading garden bloggers who don't share the opinion that I do.



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