Local garden centers, plant nurseries reopen as mandates relax

NILES — As Gov. Gretchen Whitmer relaxed mandates on garden stores and nurseries on Friday in executive order No. 2020-59, local greenhouses and nurseries prepared to open their doors back up. As Monday arrived, local greenhouses were found with full parking lots.

Each business updated its social media and websites to reflect the newest safety implementations over the weekend. Greenhouses put in place procedures to comply with guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and COVID-19 state mandates. Entries and exits were separated and enforced, and tape marking 6 feet apart for lines at checkout counters were placed in each business.

At Vite Greenhouses on Redbud Trail, an attendant wearing gloves and a mask welcomed customers into the business and ushered them to the carts. The carts, already separated, had been wiped down in between uses by employees. Each aisle of florals and greenery had arrows taped down to guide customers’ direction as they traveled through the store, so as not to crowd any one space.

Don Vite, of the family owned Vite Greenhouses, said that about 80 percent of its visitors on Monday arrived wearing masks.

“We’re trying to help. We really want to encourage people to take carts,” Vite said. “It’s an easy mechanism for people to stay apart.”

Vite said that the greenhouses generally open on April 1. Businesses deemed non-essential, including garden stores and plant nurseries, were mandated closed to shoppers in Michigan on March 24. Without the opportunity and set up to do curbside delivery at the time, the greenhouses missing most of the month of April meant that sales for the season were impacted significantly, Vite said.

“April and May are roughly 85 to 90-percent of our business,” Vite said. “It’s critical. There’s been a lot of anxious, hungry customers.”

Vite said the unstable weather for April had worked in his favor, with some of the cooler temperature dips not being ideal for new plants. The time frame for planning has not been missed.

“We are sure thankful for the governor lifting our ban,” Vite said. “If you miss this window, people would normally start vacationing when kids get out of school. At this point, we’re just trying to catch up.”

Vite Greenhouses implemented a shopping time on Tuesday mornings, between 8 and 10 a.m. for those most vulnerable to the COVID-19 virus, including those over 60 years old, pregnant women and those with chronic illnesses and conditions. Staff have also put together an online ordering and curbside delivery form to assist those who were not comfortable coming into the greenhouse.

“Honestly, I think that’s here to stay. That’s just another convenience factor,” Vite said.

He expressed that one of the unforeseen challenges of online ordering lies with the variety and volume of the plants the greenhouse offers. With over 267 monocultures, or single flower variety baskets, the decision making can be challenging, he said.