Carolina Nurseries told its 335 employees Friday that the sprawling Berkeley County wholesale plant facility that dates back to 1911 will close unless it can secure new funding to repay a bank loan.
"We issued a WARN Act to our employees, giving them 60-day notice of possible unemployment," company President J. Guy said late Friday. "One of our lenders is requesting to be paid off. We have been actively looking for new monies."
Though spring sales have been good, Guy said a drastic slump in sales last year during the steep recession hurt the 686-acre facility on the edge of Moncks Corner along U.S. Highway 52.
"This is our lives. We don't want it to happen," he said. "We are doing everything in our power for it not to happen. We have dealt with Hugo and snow storms and everything else. We can deal with a banking disaster."
Although there is a targeted closure date of June 21, Guy hopes no one will have to be terminated.
"We are going to get this thing fixed," he said.
Guy is confident he will find the money to survive, despite the bank's threat to auction off the property the last week of June and a note given to employees Friday that said the nursery will cease operations June 21. The notice to employees was in compliance with the Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act.
Guy declined to discuss the amount of the loan involved, but he said if new funding is found, some employees may be retained or recalled to work, but he cautioned that those laid off should not count on being recalled and urged them to seek other jobs.
Layoffs could come in stages before June, depending on the need to wrap up work at the nursery, and seniority may be taken into consideration, the note said.
The current Carolina Nurseries was founded a century ago by Frederick Aichele as Carolina Floral Nurseries that blossomed into a diverse 400-acre farm.
When the Aichele family sold it in 1978 to American Garden Cole Inc., it grossed nearly $1 million a year.
Boston-based American Garden Products Inc., the parent company, was an early proponent of not only growing ornamentals, bedding plants and turf but also running a horticultural distribution business.
In 1980, Amfac Inc. of Honolulu, Hawaii, acquired American Garden Products and pumped in $4 million for a face-lift of the by-then 572-acre plant farm with grading, piping, new gravel container beds and 3 acres of steel shade frames.
A recession in the early 1980s resulted in price slashing and plant dumping, and an unexpected freeze devastated the inventory in 1983. Amfac decided to dump the property, so eight employees at the Berkeley County site, including Guy, agreed to buy it. All under the age of 40, none had ever owned a business before, but they bet they could turn the business around.
On Aug. 31, 1984, they closed the deal with Amfac, and Carolina Nurseries was born.
They added new plants to the usual azaleas, camellias and junipers found in most Southern nurseries, and were doing well until Hurricane Hugo devastated the state in 1989. It took several months to repair the damage and begin normal operations, but the nursery survived. In 2001 it expanded north toward Moncks Corner and encompassed the entire area bounded by U.S. 52, Gaillard and Ben Baron roads and a rail line along the back of the property.
Four of the eight original shareholders remain, including Guy, and they sell to 30 states in two-thirds of the U.S. from Dallas to Boston. About 320 acres are used for plants. The rest is water or woodlands.
"We are going to be here forever," a confident Guy said.
And if they aren't?
"We will cross that bridge when we get to it," Guy said. "Right now, we are going to work on getting our lender taken care of."
Reach Warren Wise at email@example.com or 937-5524.
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