MARYSVILLE – Steve Smith turns 70 this year, and so does his business – Sunnyside Nursery.
He didn’t start working there at birth, but he has owned it since 1989.
Smith said recently he wouldn’t mind retiring, but he has to find the right buyer. The nursery has developed quite a tradition in town as a destination spot. He worked hard to turn it into that, and he would like to see it continue. He doesn’t want it to be bulldozed and turned into housing.
Smith developed a love for gardening while in high school in the picturesque Coronado area of San Diego. “I was the neighborhood yard boy,” he said, mowing lawns, raking leaves and trimming shrubs. After graduating in 1966, he spent time in the Army and Peace Corps but also got a degree in horticulture from the University of California at Davis. He was a landscape contractor in California for years.
In 1988, his family came north to have Christmas with relatives in Kirkland, but also to check out a business they saw for sale in a trade journal.
There was a house included big enough for their four kids, and it was on 2 acres so there was room for the business to grow.
Smith said the previous owners had it as a “ma and pa seasonal business” but he wanted to make it year-around.
Be careful what you wish for, he might say now.
Realizing the location on Sunnyside Boulevard is off the beaten path, Smith started putting on events to draw people to the then-rural area of town. “Part of it is the experience – the ambiance,” Smith said, adding it takes a conscious effort to turn the independent garden center into a destination. The quality of the plants and the personal experience “make it an event.”
Smith offers free garden classes on topics such as lawn care and pruning 50 times a year that draw up to 100 people each. “It’s mind-boggling,” he said of the turnouts.
The business has grown over the years, most notably parking across the street, but also with shops and greenhouses.
The nursery has grown so much that Smith buys many products now. “Back in the day we used to grow stuff. That’s where the magic is. But that’s not making the best use of my time,” he said.
Smith said plant sales make up about 75 percent of the business, with the rest being pottery, tools, gift items and gardening accessories.
As for new owners, Smith said he hopes to find a “young, wide-eyed, naive, hippy couple that loves plants.” He said if they have a passion for plants, he can help them with the business knowledge. “It’s easy to grow stuff; it’s hard to sell it,” he said.
Smith said his business is at the mercy of the weather. About half of what he makes for the year comes during a 10-week period. “It’s nerve wracking, but rewarding,” he said.
Looking back, Smith said the previous owners may have done it the right way, having it be seasonal. “There’s some wisdom in that lifestyle,” he said. “You need a mental health break.”
Smith said the business has a bright future. “It’s a wonderful, neighborhood kind of business,” he said, adding visitors love the smells.
“It’s a place to go to slow down. People come to just walk through – to de-Trumpify,” he added, smiling.
He said it’s an important business with 30 employees.
“It’d be a shame to turn it into housing,” he said. “It’d be a huge loss to the community.”
Sunnyside Nursery offers wreath-making classes every Saturday through Dec. 16. It also sells fresh trees, with the food bank getting some of the proceeds.