Follow-Up File: Landscape division thriving

Name: Mark Mitchell

Job: Owner

Business: Hometown Nursery

What they said then:

In September 2010, Hometown Nursery closed the doors of its retail store at 201 Spring St., in Paso Robles.

The business, founded in 1976, occupied its new building for just two years. Before that, it sat between 18th and 19th streets on Spring. But owners Bob Bryant and Mark Mitchell had learned those lots were to be split and developed.

“We feel like we’re more visible down here,” said then-manager Becky Holt. “The way it’s laid out, there’s a lot more displayable retail footage.”

But by the fall, retail business had declined, Mitchell told The Tribune. Sales dropped 28 percent in 2009, followed by similar declines in early 2010.

“(It) is almost all based on a customer’s discretionary income,” he added, “and people are holding on to every penny.”

What he says now:

The landscaping division — Hometown Nursery’s side business that grew in 2009 and 2010 — is what remains.

Mostly through recommendations from former retail customers, Mitchell has kept busy with residential and commercial projects.

“We have continued doing the landscape, construction, consultation and design,” Mitchell said. “It has been so nice; people have told their friends and family about us.”

Using contacts with vendors who previously supplied the store, Hometown Nursery can sometimes negotiate prices not available to the public.

With licenses for agricultural spraying, aircraft inspection and a general contractor, Mitchell and his crews tackle a variety of tasks.

“Whatever work that works for us,” he said.

The company has employed up to five people on a contract basis during the past year. Hiring is project-by-project. Bryant is no longer an owner.

While the owners “lost a ton of money,” Mitchell believes they were lucky to get out with no bankruptcy or foreclosure. The store’s deed was transferred to Heritage Oaks Bank.

“Fortunately, we were not leveraged to the point where we put our homes on the line,” he said. “None of our vendors lost money.”

When the store closed last year, Mitchell said his goal was to reopen the retail nursery one day.

Today, he doesn’t see it.

“I’ve talked to people about this all year long. I get yes and no from every angle,” he said. “I have to say right now, it’s no. We’re not going to take a huge chance.”