Two Gardening and Growing.

by Charlie Thigpen

This month, my wife Cindy and I will celebrate our second anniversary as proud owners of a garden shop.  We now realize we don’t own the shop; it owns us. We were both in the publishing world for many years, so there has been a big learning curve jumping into a retail business that has perishable merchandise. So far we have survived a dreadful economy, extreme weather and a few business blunders.

Start-up Business

On December 4th, 2009, we opened our doors, and our former workmates, along with friends and family, came to our scantily-stocked shop to celebrate our grand opening. It was so fun as we toasted one another with champagne. We struggled to ring up our eager new customers using our new point-of-sale system.

We have grown a lot since that day, but every day we learn something new. After the holiday rush we experienced several snowy and bitter cold days and we quickly realized how seasonal our business would be. January and February can be lonely times when you have a garden shop.

Location, Location, Location

I never thought we would have opened a garden shop in downtown Birmingham. After looking around Birmingham, Cindy and I were drawn to the Pepper Place because of the weekly farmers’ market and the many committed shoppers. We thought the gardening aspect would be a good draw and the lovely garden setting behind the rose covered iron gates would be a great place to sell plants. We work seven days a week but live for Saturday mornings and the large crowds that explore our hidden garden and shop. Many Saturday evenings we literally collapse from exhaustion.

Teaching and Gardening

Cindy and I wanted to have classes to get people outside, learn about gardening and celebrate outdoor living. We’ve taught several hundred people in our garden and have entertained numerous garden clubs. Our after-work hypertufa classes have been a big hit, and we appreciate all who have participated. I still can’t believe the people who have driven from Georgia, Huntsville and Dothan to make hypertufa planters, troughs, votives and leaves. It has been so fun to see them unwind in our flower filled setting. We are often told we have a “feel good” shop and that encourages us. We also have regular customers come in and announce they aren’t going to buy anything, they just came in to get ideas. We love sharing ideas.

Although Cindy and I own a home in the suburbs, we practically live in downtown Birmingham.  So now we try to promote our friendly city. As we close another gardening year, we want to thank all who have spent time exploring our shop. We love all the new friends we’ve made and look forward to serving you in the future.  Happy Holidays from Charlie Thigpen’s Garden Gallery.•

Charlie Thigpen is a horticulturalist and the owner of Garden Gallery in Pepper Place.

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