Garden biz: Finally, it’s all one big Rick’s

       Since 1948, a sign with the name “Rick's” has hung in the area of 19th and Uintah streets, making the southeast corner widely known as a place to shop for gardening supplies and vegetation.
       But how many know that through those years two different businesses were actually operating there (even three for a while), and the same people never owned them all?

Rick's Garden Center owners Mike and Gail Estes stand near the east end of the Rick's Nursery business they recently bought. The area is temporarily empty because the trees, bushes and six greenhouses were sold separately. Behind them, in the background is the building with Rick's Garden Center upstairs. The business used to share the downstairs storage with Rick's Nursery.
Westside Pioneer photo

       Until now. Since 1985, Mike and Gail Estes have owned the Rick's Garden Center, which faces onto Uintah. In 1990, they bought the adjoining plant-and-flower business, bringing the center's total size to 7,500 square feet. And, just recently, the couple acquired through a bank auction the neighboring Rick's Nursery business that faces onto Armstrong Avenue.
       “We have no idea what we're doing, but we're going to do it,” Mike said this week, half-jokingly. He described a plan to use about half the nursery's three acres this season, “because we're going in so late,” then to expand into the rest of the property in 2014.
       This temporary cutback from previous Rick's Nursery operations became necessary because other buyers in the auction purchased the plants and trees and six of the nine greenhouses at prices that Mike and Gail thought were too high. So Mike and Gail are now ordering stock of their own, bringing in some of the same types of plants but less mature trees.
       The idea is to “start small,” as Mike put it, which will also give them time to learn more about the nursery business and to hear from customers what they'd like to see.
       The garden activity at the site began in 1948, Mike related, when Dwight “Rick” Richner started the nursery. He retired in 1976, selling it to a man who coincidentally also was named Rick. Rick's Garden Center started in the 1960s. Richener built the structure, but never actually ran the business (though his wife did later on).

The front of Rick's Garden Center is seen from Uintah Street this week. From 1948, when a gardening business first opened at the southeast corner of Uintah and 19th, up until this year, the garden center has always been owned separate from Rick's nursery.
Westside Pioneer photo

       The Richner family still owns the property, which covers most of the land between Uintah and Armstrong and 17th and 19th.
       Mike went to work at the garden center in 1977. “I was 21 years old, making $2.35 an hour,” he recalled.
       He and Gail were married in 1978. She had a career in graphic arts, then joined Mike at the garden center full-time after their purchase of the neighboring flower shop in 1990.
       The most recent Rick's Nursery owners had bought it in 2006, but were hurt by the economic downturn, Mike said.
       He and Gail had been thinking previously about the benefits of taking over the nursery. Not that any serious friction had ever existed between the two businesses, but Mike pointed out how the center and nursery overlapped on some products they sold, such as flowers and soil.
       Their resolve to go ahead with the purchase plan was tested by the Waldo Canyon Fire, which destroyed their home last June in Mountain Shadows. But Mike and Gail say they're working to put that behind them, having since sold their lot to a neighbor who liked the idea of a double lot and moving northeast to a less fire-sensitive part of the city.
       Having the three-acre nursery property will also provide sorely needed space for the garden center. For example, the two businesses had shared the multi-bay garages directly below the center. His all-in-one Rick's can use the full garage space now, even set palettes outside them, Mike said, happily pointing to a recent shipment of straw.
       There's one more plus to “Rick's” finally becoming one operation. “I've been confusing people over the years, having to give them the spiel” (about the two businesses being separate), Mike said. “Now we're going forward with one theme.”

Westside Pioneer article