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Gates Garden Factory growing in different ways

Gary McLendon – rocnow.com

May 25, 2010

GATES — The Garden Factory is keeping with its tradition of providing customers with more by expanding and remodeling its Buffalo Road facility.

Cool May weather has the store bracing for a rush of do-it-yourself gardeners as the Memorial Day weekend approaches, already one of the busiest times of the year.

And the next few weeks will be different at the Garden Factory because as of June 1, the front entrance area will be stripped bare to make way for renovation and expansion.

The Garden Factory has grown from one small building fronting Buffalo Road on a 5.2-acre site to nearly 40 acres with an indoor shopping area, a nursery, greenhouses and parking for 450 cars.

Robert and Patricia Martell purchased the former Kodisch’s Garden Center site in 1974, and the store now touts itself as the largest garden center in New York.

“This is one of the largest. I’d say it’s in the top five on the East Coast,” said general manager Dennis Keady.

In fact, thousands of potted and hanging plants are being grown and put on sale right now.

“We’re very different because we do not only retail, we do our own growing to support our own store. A lot of garden centers just buy from other places.”

Out of view to most customers are greenhouses full of rows upon rows of multi-colored flowers and hundreds of plants in hanging baskets being grown on the 6.5 acres dedicated to growing plants.

Small mountains of top soils and mulch, which require heavy construction equipment to move, also sit outside.

Last year, the Garden Factory added a 12,000-square-foot enclosed retail area for the sale of pottery, grills and patio furniture.

This September it will finish renovation, and the front end of the store will nearly triple in size. The oldest portion of the facility will be replaced with two 55-foot high peaked buildings, with new glass-frontage on Buffalo Road.

It will contain two greenhouses totaling 5,000 square feet and a modernized and expanded checkout area.

“It will look beautiful,” Keady said, quickly adding, “I’m not taking credit for anything.”

The renovations will allow the store to continuously stock more tropical plants and remain open year-round instead of closing for six to eight weeks during the winter.

Keady, 49, of Ogden, said it’s a “team effort” of about 140 employees such as Tito Ortiz and David Nixon that make the Garden Factory look so good and run so well.

“Oh, my God, it’s a lot of work!” foreman Tito Ortiz said with a smile.

Ortiz, 56, of Gates, who supervises a crew of 17 people, starts work at 4 a.m. and has been working 14-hour days for months to get to this point.

“It takes from February to May to pack this place, and it takes a month to empty them out,” said Ortiz, who has been working there for 18 years.

With summer plants being worked on now, it will be time to plant the mums and poinsettias.

“It’s continuous. It never stops,” said Keady who has worked at the business for almost 33 years. “The business has almost doubled in size since the 1990s.”

Original co-owner Patricia Martell is a store buyer, while Robert Martell is retired.

The family business is mainly run by the second generation of Martells.

Son Randy Martell is the greenhouse manager and grower

Son Rick Martell is the nursery manager, and daughter Jackie Martell is in charge of accounts payable.

David Nixon, 53, of Rochester, takes care of all of the watering and all of the deliveries. “I do a little bit of everything, like everybody else. I just try to do whatever’s next,” he said.

Nixon said he made a career in garden supply after he “fell in love with landscaping 30 years ago.”

“A lot of people come in here — they don’t know which end of the plant is up, you know, you help them out,” Nixon said. “You get a good sense helping somebody like that with their gardens.”

And customers such as Theresa and Bob Collins, of Spencerport, who have been shopping at the Garden Factory for 38 years, say they recognize quality when they see it.

“I’ve already been here four times this year. I love this place,” said Theresa. “I think they have everything you could want for your yard.

“It’s the only place I think of when spring comes in for flowers, even trees and bushes. And I’ve got a place (a garden store) right on the corner near my house that has flowers and things,” adding she likes the Garden Factory so much that she only shops at the store near her home “if I have to.”

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