Local small businesses concerned, upset by vendor

Local small businesses concerned, upset by vendor

The original Philips Garden Store location in Murray Hill

To paraphrase Kermit, it’s not easy selling green.

After a slow crawl out of the economic recession and this winter’s dismal weather, local nurseries and florists were especially hoping for a strong spring season.

Those hopes were dashed – or at least daunted – by the surprise arrival of a temporary plant and flower vendor at the corner of Herschel Street and San Juan Avenue in Fairfax in early March.

According to Joel Philips, owner of Philips Garden Store at 4234 Herschel St., when Seasonal Holiday Sales pitched their tent a block away, his immediate reaction was dismay. “I had a bad feeling in my stomach when I saw that big tractor trailer being unloaded. We try to do what we do here as the best we can,” said Philips. “It’s right when we were so excited about coming out of this awful winter.”

Philips is not alone in his unease. Even businesses in the Shoppes of Avondale aren’t happy about it. Anita Miller, of Anita’s Garden Shop and Design, said “We’re disappointed because it affects the retail climate in the neighborhood. It’s poor form in a lot of ways.”

That “poor form” reflects concerns that brick-and-mortar shop owners have about a “pop-up” business that doesn’t pay local taxes the way that the established businesses do to support the community.

According to Simon Garwood, a broker with San Marco’s Warren & Company, Seasonal Holiday Sales has all the permits, insurance, etc. for a four-month lease. “They approached us and we negotiated a seasonal lease on behalf of the Thebaut family [the property owners].”

Durward Allen, Wynona Irish, Joel Philips, Red O’Toole

Durward Allen, Wynona Irish, Joel Philips, Red O’Toole

Seasonal Holiday Sales, owned by George and Laurie Harrington of Mandarin, had operated a Christmas tree lot last fall in the small shopping center on Roosevelt Boulevard which includes La Nopalera, Tuesday Morning and Pet Supermarket. The fact that they’ve moved from a more highly trafficked road to a small neighborhood doesn’t make sense to Philips, who took over the 53-year-old family business in 1993.

“Usually those businesses are in high volume places, like Blanding, Beach or San Jose boulevards,” noted Philips. Seasonal Holiday Sales has a dozen or so locations all over Jacksonville, mostly positioning in close proximity of existing nurseries, according to Philips.

“Their literature says they sell seasonal flowers, fireworks, pumpkins and Christmas trees with all the things that go with that,” he said. “Of course the church [St. Mark’s Episcopal] has sold trees many years with the youth group; I always think of the neighborhood with those kinds of incursions.”

Philips does care about the neighborhood and it’s evident in how he conducts his own business. “We try to give back to the community every time we can. We try to support the churches and the schools any time they have a special occasion, special benefits; what we try to do is a little bit for everybody that asks,” he said. “My argument would be that I don’t think that this community, much less the City, is going to see a whole lot of anything from a company like that in return.”

In addition to giving back to the community, Philips is concerned about the fit of certain types of businesses in the Fairfax neighborhood.
“We’re also trying to rent some space and I fully realize that everyone that’s come to talk to me about this is not a fit for this neighborhood…if I wasn’t a little discriminating about who we’re going to lease to, I probably already could have leased it. Some things are more important than money,” said Philips.

The local nursery and florists, like St. Johns Flower Market, and Anita’s Garden Shop, are hoping that customers also feel that loyalty is more important than saving a buck.
“When you’re in a small community like this, folks watch out for each other,” shared Philips. “They’ve taken great care of us all these years and we’ve tried to reciprocate. We are
fortunate beyond words to have the loyal – really, friends, not just customers.”
Only time will tell whether Seasonal Holiday Sales will survive to return with pumpkins and Christmas trees next fall, clear competition for the youth groups at St. Mark’s and at Ortega United Methodist Church, where pumpkins have been peddled for decades.

“Competition is competition,” Philips concluded. “I don’t begrudge that but I would be lying if I said I did not take it personally the second I saw it. It was such an in-your-face move to be just three blocks down in a place that’s off the beaten track a little bit. Without the outpouring of customers in full support of us, I would have had a much more insecure mindset about it. It really helped my feelings to have that support.”

By Kate A. Hallock
Resident Community News

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