When Norcross, Ga.-based Pike Nursery filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy last month, it became the first large retail business to fall victim to the Southeast’s worst drought in 100 years.
Landscape contractors, sod farmer and plant nurseries have been hardest hit by the severe lack of rainfall, which on Sept. 28 led the Georgia Environmental Protection Division (EPD) to declare Level Four drought restrictions across the northern third of the state, prohibiting most types of outdoor residential water use.
More than 14,000 people associated with Georgia’s estimated $8 billion gardening industry have lost their jobs, according to an online survey by the Georgia Urban Agriculture Council. And with forecasters predicting a dry spring, the news promises to get worse in early 2008.
Pike, which opened its first nursery in 1958 and says it’s the nation’s largest privately owned chain of garden centers, announced it had secured $11.75 million in financing to help it operate during the bankruptcy. All but two of the company’s 22 nurseries in Georgia, Alabama and North Carolina are expected to stay open, and the company plans to keep its more than 700 employees on the payroll. Unlike in past years, however, 200 extra helpers were not hired for the fall planting season.
“Pike is the first big one we’ve heard of, but day by day we are hearing of small retail garden centers cutting back and letting people go,” said Mary Kay Woodworth, executive director of the Metro Atlanta Landscape & Turf Association (MALTA). “I think come January and February, we’re going to be hearing of more companies closing their doors.”
Charmar Flowers of Athens, Ga., will become a casualty before then. The third-generation family run garden center is set to shut down operations Dec. 31 after 37 years in business. Owner Chris Butts attributed the closing to a combination of water restrictions imposed by Athens four out of the last five years, coupled with the dim prospects for rainfall over the next few months.
But Georgia isn’t the only state suffering because of the drought. Almost all the farmland in Virginia has insufficient topsoil moisture, while Kentucky’s rainfall is about 11 inches below normal -- a condition not seen in more than 75 years. In North Carolina, some communities have only a three-month water supply, wh