The coronavirus causes garden centers to lose business in high season

According to the Old Farmer’s Almanac, it’s too late for Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, kale and Swiss chard.

Gardeners and farmers who live in central Pennsylvania should have these plants in the ground by the end of April.

This has not happened to many people because of the coronavirus pandemic. And if people were able to obtain plants for their gardens, it is unlikely that they bought them from small local garden centers.

In an effort to prevent the spread of the virus in Pennsylvania, Governor Tom Wolf has shut down non-vital businesses, which included garden centers.

Some have managed to stay open, either by getting waivers or claiming survival status as they also sell food.

John Rockelman, owner of Rockelman’s Nursery in York Township, has seen some businesses receive waivers and others, like his, denied.

“There are a lot of inconsistencies,” he said. “We also have an arboreal farm, and that could still be open.”

Rockelman said his employees wore masks and people were asked to maintain social distancing after it reopened late last week.

“We can do curbside pickup, but we haven’t had a lot,” he said. “People like to choose what they want.”

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But for many garden center owners and their workers, they can only sit back while the most important weeks of their livelihood pass them by. What must be another bitter pill to swallow is looking at the stores, deemed essential for other reasons, selling vegetables and flowers.

Some grocery stores, big box stores like Walmart, Home Depot, and Lowes, and hardware stores have shelf after shelf of plants for sale. Pop-up stores housed in colorful tents began to dot the parking lots with signs advertising the sale of vegetables and flowers.

State lawmakers are crying foul.

Bills in the House and Senate have been introduced to force the governor to reopen garden centers. The Senate bill was passed by this chamber and was sent to the House for approval.

Wolf recently said that if the invoice arrived at his office, he would not sign it.

The governor’s press secretary Lyndsay Kensinger said on Monday there was a difference between garden centers and greenhouses and nurseries.

“For the cultivation of crops, food and seeds, greenhouses and nurseries fall under a sector of the agricultural industry and are therefore vital businesses and are allowed to remain open,” Kensinger said in a statement to the York Daily Record.

She said the same goes for farmers’ markets and farm gate markets.

But garden centers are classified as “lawn and garden equipment and supplies stores”.

“[They] are not permitted to maintain in-person operations, and this applies to both independent garden centers, as well as those attached to a large retail chain or grocery stores, ”Kensinger said. “Garden centers can offer delivery or online services. “

Representative Kristin Phillips-Hill of the Township of R-York sees this as a problem. She was one of four senators to draft a bill to reopen state garden centers.

She has seen how some local centers have been able to function under social distancing mandates and does not see why others cannot do the same.

“If a few garden centers can get an exemption, all should be able to get one,” said Phillips-Hill. “Every time I go to a garden center, I don’t see people rushing there. This is just not the framework for it. When I look at small garden centers, I think they can adhere to social distancing. “

She said it was difficult for her and her colleagues to understand why some companies appear to have been granted waivers and others are closed. “I know there are garden centers that are open, which maybe shouldn’t be,” she said.

But no one other than the state officials who make the decisions about waivers has seen any of the lists. Not one showing which companies have been granted waivers and not one showing which has been denied.

“We are flying blind as lawmakers,” said Phillips-Hill. “The Senate requested the waiver and refused documents, but we did not see them. “

Numerous media have filed right-to-know requests for the same documents, and these requests have gone unanswered.

Some of the state’s garden centers may reopen as of May 8, when 24 counties in the state’s northwest and north-central transition from the red to yellow closure phase.

“As counties enter the yellow phase, in-person retail is permitted with preferable curbside pickup and delivery,” Kensinger said in a statement Monday.

York County is not among the 24 counties that will turn yellow on Friday. Wolf said southwestern and possibly south-central counties would be under consideration to open in the next wave, but neither he nor Health Secretary Dr Rachel Levine would say when that would be. could happen.

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Phillips-Hill said gardeners will soon reach a somewhat mythical deadline.

“Growing up, we were always told that you had to bring your plants in before Mother’s Day,” she said. This day comes Sunday.

She said the current stay home order would have been a great time for people to be able to crash.

“There are supply chain issues with our food, so what better way to take care of your family than with your own backyard,” Phillips-Hill said. “But where are they going to get the plants?

“Plants are sold in big box stores, grocery stores, and hardware stores, but if garden centers cannot sell their plants, they cannot earn their income. “

And unlike some businesses that don’t have specific time frames based on weather and seasons, garden centers have a short window to sell their wares.

Shelly Stallsmith is trend reporter for the York Daily Record. She can be reached at or followed on Twitter at @ShelStallsmith.