Biz Buzz: Grover Beach nursery closes

Ron’s Nursery of Grover Beach has closed after a bank foreclosed on its property, and owners Ron and Peggy Ann Carlock have filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy protection.

The nursery, open for 26 years and a favorite throughout the county, was known for a well-stocked 5,000-square-foot showroom, well-maintained nursery grounds and a high-end feel with gifts and furniture.

The couple was issued a notice of default in April 2009 for missed mortgage payments on the nursery at 1207 13th St., in Grover Beach, according to county records. Unpaid debt on the property was $179,327 when it was foreclosed on by the Community Bank of Santa Maria this June, the records show.

Documents filed in U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Santa Barbara indicate that the couple held $968,857 in assets and $3,576,307 in liabilities at the time of bankruptcy filing Tuesday. Liabilities included $149,000 in back taxes and $570,000 worth of personal loans, according to court records.

Chapter 7 bankruptcy is also known as liquidation, resulting in the sale of the debtor’s nonexempt property and distribution of the proceeds to creditors.

Ron’s Nursery, a sole proprietorship, was not incorporated. So the bankruptcy affects the Carlocks’ personal finances.

The nursery gate and parking lot are now locked, and unwatered plants in pots surround empty spots where fountains and garden furniture once stood. Attempts to reach the Carlocks for comment were unsuccessful.

In 2000, a fire almost destroyed the business’ gift shop and greenhouse, causing $750,000 in damage.

Ron Carlock told The Tribune at the time that his sales dropped by at least 50 percent after the fire, and the Carlocks spent $550,000 to rebuild and enhance the grounds with a new gift shop and greenhouse.

— Julia Hickey

Environmental lab firm abruptly folds

A San Luis Obispo environmental testing and analysis laboratory shut its doors last Thursday, leaving its workers without paychecks or answers.

Employees of Centauri Labs, which also operates environmental testing labs in Maryland and a radiochemistry center in Alabama, met at an Avila Beach park Wednesday in a show of solidarity after being told July 1 that they would no longer have jobs.

The closure affected 13 employees and hundreds of clients, including the cities of Santa Barbara and Santa Maria.

“We were all ready to move into a new facility in San Luis Obispo and then all of a sudden, we were shut down,” said Meredith Rounds, a lab technician who joined the company last year.

In April, Centauri Labs bought Creek Environmental Laboratories, which was founded in 1993 by Orval Osborne, a former San Luis Obispo planning commissioner.

At its peak, Creek Labs, which primarily tested for contaminants in soil and water, had more than 20 employees and about 100 clients.

However, after many years of profitability, the company, located on Suburban Road in San Luis Obispo, encountered financial trouble because of competition and the increased costs of doing business, Osborne said.

Creek Labs filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy protection, listing more than $47,000 in assets and more than $541,000 in liabilities. Chapter 7 allows a company to operate under the direction of a court trustee until the bankruptcy is settled with creditors.

It closed officially March 31 when Centauri announced the acquisition of Creek Labs on April 1, hiring the existing staff.

A news release about the purchase of Creek Labs stated that it would help the company to expand its operations on the West Coast and “serve as our commercial and industrial center of excellence as well as a portal for federal projects into Centauri Labs.”

Osborne, who worked in sales for Centauri, said he is disappointed by the abrupt closure.

“It’s hard on the customers and the employees,” he said. “They should have at least finished the work in-house and allowed for a smooth transition.”

Employees say the company chairman, Joe Hernandez, has had limited contact with them, saying only in an e-mail message that he was trying to find someone to take over operations and that the firm had run unto immense financial trouble.

Hernandez could not be reached for comment on his cell phone Wednesday afternoon, and a call to the company was not returned.

Kimberlee Turner, human resources manager for Centauri, said the company brought in about $2.5 million in annual revenue, and could have been a viable company with the right management and business model.

Noting that none of the bills were paid while accounts receivable were aggressively collected, Turner believes Hernandez spotted a struggling company and never intended to reinvest in it.

“We all had high hopes,” she said.

— Julie Lynem