Flowers in bloom at the Horse Lake Garden Centre. (Patrick Davies - 100 Mile Free Press)

Horse Lake Garden Centre open for business

"I think it's working well now"

COVID-19 has done little to stunt the growth of the Horse Lake Garden Centre’s businesses this year.

Roger Stratton is one of the owners and operators of Horse Lake Garden Centre in Lone Butte, just outside of 100 Mile House. Stratton said that they grow all the plants they sell locally to ensure they’re suited for the Cariboo climate. In addition to their Lone Butte location, their plants are sold throughout the Cariboo at grocery stores and markets.

The year 2020 marks 11 seasons of growing in the Cariboo, Stratton said and so far this season has been largely uninterrupted by COVID-19. The garden centre belongs to an association called Nurseryland who were able to successfully lobby the government to be classified as an essential service as they, like a farmers market, are a food provider as they grow and sell vegetable and fruit plants.

While they could be fully open Stratton said they’ve decided to keep the store open to the public and conduct orders via email and phone, initially. In late April, however, they had to start replanting their crop from the greenhouse into pots for sale. As customers often came through the greenhouse, they made the joint decision with their workers to close the greenhouses to the public until the potting was done.

With this now done they’ve since re-opened the greenhouses to customers by putting one-way traffic patterns on the floor to avoid backtracking. In addition to this, they’re only allowing three customers, per greenhouse, in at any one time, Stratton said. There’s also a sanitation centre set up before one enters the garden centre and signs directing people to sanitation centres set up in each greenhouse.

Stratton observed that, except in some cases, buying plants tends to be a rather spontaneous activity that involves people seeing, smelling and feeling the plant before purchase. So being able to be open is a big help for the garden centre which is open Monday to Sunday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

“I think it’s working well now, sales have picked back up so now we can pay the bills and feel comfortable so that’s what we’re doing,” Stratton said.

Their success this year he places on his employees who, despite being understaffed, worked hard with him to meet customer demand and get the garden centre ready for spring. Stratton said they’re lucky to have them.

Long term he sees the impact of COVID-19 on the wider 100 Mile House economy as being substantial as in addition to many businesses being required to close and stay closed, some without indication they’ll be re-opening, there will also be less money spent in the economy by customers. Some will have lost their jobs, Stratton said, and those who haven’t will still be less likely, in his opinion, to spend money on luxuries and non-essential goods.

“I’m not a strong Trudeau fan but I think it’s very impressive how he’s managed the whole thing (on a country scale). I think part of it is his teacher’s background. It allows him to get people to think as a group rather than individuals, I think that helps,” Stratton said, remarking that likewise, he feels Premier John Horgan has done an impressive job overall.

The next step, from the government, will be figuring out how to safely get the economy moving again across the country as he feels there’s now enough common sense among the general public to do so safely. Stratton said that, for example, of the 500 or so people that might come through his garden centre in a week only two or three of them will seem to have no sense of what’s going on.

“If we can get things going people will feel more at ease, it’s never going to be exactly the same. Social distancing, courtesy stuff like that I hope stays,” Stratton said. “Maybe if there’s going to be a blessing from all this sort of thing that we end up having better behaviour as human beings with each other so our kids, elder and we don’t get sick.”

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