The flowers are in full bloom in North Lawrence, but the customers are not.
Howard Pine’s Garden Center and Greenhouse, 1320 N. Third St., is on the verge of its worst season in its 48 years in business, and owner Gerald Pine attributes the financial downturn to ongoing road construction projects in North Lawrence.
“The greenhouse business is much like a farm,” Pine said, while standing amid rows and rows of vibrant-colored geraniums. “You plant all these flowers, and you expect so many of them to be harvested. When you have too many left over, it’s hurting your business, and it’s hurting so much that it’s going to be hard to get to next season.”
Pine said it started with the bottleneck caused by the detour from the construction on North Second Street, and business only got worse when the East Lawrence interchange closed in early April, cutting off access to North Lawrence from the Kansas Turnpike. That exit is scheduled to remain closed until November.
“I’ve had customers from Topeka and Kansas City say we just can’t have that quick stop that we normally would have if we were traveling on the interstate, and so they just have to go by. There’s no way to get off.”
Pine estimates sales are down by as much as 20 percent. He said the downturn in the economy and rainy weather throughout much of May could also be having an impact.
But customers aren’t the only ones having a hard time making it to the North Lawrence business. Employees said the road construction is taking its toll on them, too.
“I live out by Clinton Lake, and it used to be that I could get here in 12 minutes,” longtime Pine’s employee Corky Kearney said. “Right now, I have to come down Sixth Street, which amounts to about 30 minutes in each direction, so that does make quite a difference.”
Pine knows he’s not alone. He said he’s talked to other businesses along the corridor that have seen a dramatic decrease in customers, too, but with his business being seasonal and only open from late March until early August at the latest, he’s feeling the effects even more.
“This is my worst financial downturn,” Pine said. “This is the worst financial crisis that I’ve faced.”
Pine said he and other North Lawrence business owners wanted to get the word out that, for the most part, North Second Street is now open in both directions, and he hopes that will go a long way toward luring customers back into his business.
“It’s much easier than it used to be,” Pine said. “All the businesses, we all want to get together and tell everyone it’s a little easier to get over here now than it was.”