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Minnesota garden centers push for 'Stay at Home' exemption

Not considered an 'essential business,' nurseries can only offer delivery or curbside pickup.
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It's the time of the year when Minnesota's garden centers can expect to do a roaring trade, but instead they're facing the new reality of life under COVID-19 restrictions.

With garden stores and nurseries not considered "essential" retail under Gov. Tim Walz's "Stay at Home" order, those that have stayed open are now having to offer their flowers and plants via curbside pickup and delivery.

But with Gov. Walz signaling that the Stay at Home order could potentially be expanded depending on the latest coronavirus data, there are efforts within the industry to allow independent garden centers to stay open.

The Minnesota Nursery and Landscape Association met with Gov. Walz on Friday, and part of their conversation centered around potentially allowing the green industry to re-open provided it "primarily works outdoors and can operate safely by implementing appropriate customer and operational social distancing."

Part of its argument is that the retail garden industry employs 42,000 people a year, and allowing them to partially re-open would reduce some of the burden on the state's unemployment insurance bill.

Also calling for changes is Minnesota Gardens, the Chaska-based retailer that has launched a petition calling on the Gov. Walz to allow mom n' pop garden centers to re-open for the "purpose of mental and physical well-being," at a time when gardening is one of the few outdoor pursuits available to Minnesotans right now.

It requests that stores are allowed to open their outdoor areas, which "have ample room for customers to be socially distant," with retailers implementing "one-way" lanes in its plant rows, and offer hands-free credit card payments only.

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Despite having to switch to curbside pickup and delivery only, Minnesota Gardens says its business is actually up this year, partially helped by a 30 percent jump in pre-ordering vegetables, and is also increasing its Hanging Basket supplies ahead of Mother's Day.

But the major threat to the independent stores are the likes of Menards and Home Depot, which are still allowed to operate due to the supplies they offer "essential" industries such as construction, but which also have plant and gardening sections.

Business is up from last year, about 25 percent up," Minnesota Gardens' owner Mark Buse told BMTN. "Do we expect it to continue? Yes, if people continue to order online and over the phone, but that depends if Gov Walz does not change how we and other garden centers can do business.

"If he lets the big box stores continue to sell veggies, herbs, and plants and pulls the reins in on us, it will hurt."

It was reported last week that one of Minneapolis' major garden centers, Bachmans, had been given an exemption to allow it to re-open on Monday, but Twin Cities Business has since been informed that the exemption had been granted accidentally, and it will have to continue its curbside pickup and delivery for now.

The retailer did recently donate 1,500 of its Easter lilies and tulips to Abbott Northwestern as the hospital deals with the COVID-19 outbreak.

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