Andy Kay's first semi-truck load of annual flowers arrived at the end of March.
While the COVID-19 pandemic has shut down much of the country, the flower-plant-landscape business hasn't stopped.
Orders that garden center managers such as Kay, owner of The Green Thumbers, Davenport, placed more than six months ago are being delivered. Because it's still very early, the annuals Kay received were the cool-weather varieties, such as pansies.
Garden center businesses in both Iowa and Illinois generally still have been operating, poised for the big months of April, May and June when they typically make half their business for the year.
The Green Thumbers; Wallace's Garden Center & Greenhouse, Bettendorf; Meyer Landscape & Design, Moline; and Teske Pet & Garden Centers in Moline and Bettendorf all have made changes to help keep their employees and customers safe during the pandemic.
"Our trucks have never been so clean," Kurt Meyer, owner of Meyer Landscape, said, explaining that they are wiped down twice a day.
In addition, Meyer is having only one person in a truck at a time instead of two and is staggering shifts by 15 minutes so that employees meeting in the "job room" have space to social distance.
Wallace's took an extra step by voluntarily closing its doors to the public on March 24 for a two-week period, owner Kate Terrell said. Customers can still place orders by phone, email or through the store's website for pickup or delivery.
Meantime, Terrell has ordered face shields, safety glasses and other protective gear for checkout clerks for when the business does reopen.
Changes aimed at customers:
• Online discussions. The landscape design business typically involves the landscaper and the owner walking a property together, then sitting down around a table to discuss possibilities.
Now Meyer is using video chats. The landscaper still walks the property, but not with the owner, and the discussion and exchange of drawings is online.
Wallace's prides itself as a go-to place for horticultural questions but is encouraging customers to call, send an email or leave a message on its Facebook page instead of coming into the store.
Encouragement of social distancing. Meyer has posted signs at its counter advising people to stand 6 feet back.
Wallace's put tape on the floor in front of its counters to mark out 6 feet. It also has purchased two laptops so that sales can be made on the floor, rather than requiring customers to queue up in a checkout line.
The store also has also ordered buttons for all employees that say, "Hug plants, not people. Thank you for social distancing."
As of Friday, Terrell was still undecided about reopening on April 7. "I wish I had a really good crystal ball answer for you," she said. "New information comes out every day."
• Shop from your car. Green Thumbers has posted signs that if a customer doesn't want to come in the door, he or she can call in an order and an employee will bring it out.
"You can go through the whole process without leaving your car," Kay said.
The other stores will do that too. "People can call in and we will get the items for them," Jill VenHorst, manager of the Bettendorf store, said.
• Home delivery. Wallace's is offering free delivery on orders of $30 or more anywhere in Davenport, Bettendorf, LeClaire, Rock Island or Moline, Terrell said.
Green Thumbers is offering free delivery during April.
Don't jump the gun
Because people have been cooped up in their homes, those who like to garden are exceptionally eager.
Terrell cautioned that it is still early.
"I got a call the other day wondering if it was OK to plant tomatoes. The frost-free day isn't until May. You can't plant tomatoes for six weeks."
But, yes, everyone is eager.
"The plants are here, the pottery is here, everything's here," Kay said. "I hope people come out in droves."
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