The longtime owners of Longacres’ Nursery Center say they’re selling their business of 45 years to a Burlington-based garden supply company.
The Mechanic Street outfit launched in 1971 as a landscaping business under brothers Jim and Joe Longacre, and four years later expanded to direct retail with the help of the youngest brother, Norm.
After more than four decades in business, the brothers cited their ages — Norm, 67; Joe, 69; Jim, 71 — and health in the decision to turn over the keys to Gardener’s Supply Company, an employee-owned company with stores in Burlington and Williston, Vt.
“See the gray hair?” Norm Longacre joked during an interview with all three brothers at the store on Thursday.
The two parties have drafted a memorandum of understanding that envisions a January handover of the business, which is located on Route 4 near Interstate 89.
The brothers, who declined to disclose the sale price, will retain ownership of the 15.6 acre property, which is assessed at more than $1.8 million, and will enter into a long-term lease with Gardener’s.
After that, not much will change immediately, representatives of the Vermont company said.
“We don’t plan any big wholesale changes,” said Pat Pearsall, the retail general manager at Gardener’s. He added of the brothers, “They’ve been successful, so why do that?”
Pearsall said the goal was to keep Longacres’ staff — including, for a time, Joe and Norm, who will help with the transition.
“It was a nice fit for them to be still employed,” Joe Longacre said of his staff, “and for us not to be (working) six to seven days and 60 hours a week.”
Those staff include two of the brothers’ children: Tim, Joe’s son; and Melissa, Norm’s daughter.
Pearsall said Gardener’s had taken similar steps during a 2008 takeover of 4 Seasons Garden Center in Williston. Most workers there stayed on, and many still remain with the company, he said.
“Hopefully all the Longacres’ people will come aboard and be with us for 10 or 15 years,” he said.
Pearsall, who once ran a Borders Books outlet in West Lebanon, said Gardener’s ownership structure had appealed to him after he left the bookstore mega-chain, which went bankrupt and closed in 2011.
“I felt here you can come to a business and make a difference every day,” Pearsall said. “…You can really, truly come to work and act like an owner.”
A certified “B,” or “benefit,” corporation, Gardener’s as part of its bottom line serves the public good in addition to profit and its employees. The company, which was founded in 1983, donates 8 percent of its profits to charity, according to a news release announcing the deal.
In addition to its retail stores, Gardener’s runs a major catalog and web business.
“The Longacre family has been serving this community for more than 40 years,” Jim Feinson, president of Gardener’s, said in the release, “and we will continue that tradition while bringing Gardener’s special brand of innovative products, community support, and signature, quality service.”
Pearsall and the Longacre brothers said talks began roughly a year ago.
Gardener’s had been touring garden centers throughout the region, looking for opportunities for expansion, and were enticed by Longacres’ location and local success. Finding a foothold in New Hampshire, with its favorable taxes and proximity to Vermont, was appealing, too, Pearsall said.
“For us, New Hampshire looks like a good market,” Pearsall said. “It looks like a good place to be.”