In Business : Eden garden center reopens under new ownership
Photo by Susan Safford
After 25 years in business, during which time she grew her operation from a one-building produce stand to a vibrant and successful garden center in the heart of Vineyard Haven, Dee Dice, owner of Eden Market and Garden Center, has handed off the proverbial pruning shears.
When the store was closed for the winter, Ms. Dice sold the business to Matt Tobin, owner of Tea Lane Nursery in Chilmark. It was not an easy decision, she said in a recent interview, but after running the business for a quarter of a century, she decided it was time to move on.
"Last year we had the big 25-year celebration, and it was wonderful. But I felt it was time for something different. I can say this decision was made easier knowing I am giving it to someone like Matt [Tobin] who has been in the business, and who is so dedicated . . . that has been a real comfort," she said.
Both Ms. Dice and Mr. Tobin sat down for an interview last month in back of Eden, on a bright and sunny spring day that brought in droves of customers looking to stock up on plants and nursery stock. Ms. Dice reflected on the early days of the store, before she sold plants or garden supplies.
"When I first started I only sold produce. I had a few plants at the beginning of the season, just to liven up the place. And people would come in and ask me how much the plants were. After the third time telling them the plants weren't for sale, I thought: maybe I'm onto something here," she said.
Ms. Dice then jumped into the gardening business with both feet, attending landscape design school and eventually becoming a certified master gardener. Over time the focus of Eden shifted more from produce towards plants and gardening supplies, but the fresh produce has remained.
"People still come here specifically for the fresh produce. It's still a big part of the store," she said.
Mr. Tobin confirmed he is keeping the produce, and will not be making any major changes. "We are going to keep things about 90 to 95 percent the way they are. We are going to make some small changes, but they will only expand on what Dee has started here," he said.
Mr. Tobin said he will shift some storage from Eden to Tea Lane Nursery in Chilmark, which will free up about five to ten percent space at the Vineyard Haven location. This will allow him to sell larger gardening materials like mulch, top soils, and fencing at Eden.
"We always wanted to do that sort of thing, but we just didn't have the equipment or the experience," responded Ms. Dice. "That's why this is a perfect fit. Now the customer can come here, pick out a large tree or shrub, and Tea Lane can plant it for them. It's one-stop shopping."
Mr. Tobin said Tea Lane Nursery and Eden will remain two separate businesses, but there will be some cross-pollination. "We will be doing a lot of dancing together. We can offer full design and landscaping capacity through [Tea Lane], and cover all your gardening needs here," he said.
Mr. Tobin said he will bring the same philosophy to Eden that he employs at Tea Lane Nursery, one that leans heavily on native plantings and locally grown products. "My philosophy has always been to try and keep the Vineyard looking like the Vineyard. That's why we love living here, as opposed to anywhere-else U.S.A.," he said.
Mr. Tobin said buying Eden will allow him to grow a wider variety of items at Tea Lane Nursery. Before he was only able to grow things he would use for his landscaping operation; now he can grow a wider variety and sell them in the retail operation.
He also wants to sell a wider variety of goods.
"I am looking at a two- or three-year plan, not to change the place but to embellish it. I'd like to sell things I personally love, things like good cheese, good coffee, whole grains, different types of olive oil. But I have to see how the other stuff sells first, and see how the spaces work," he said.
Customers will still be able to find Ms. Dice at the popular garden center off State Road, helping people choose the right ornamental grass or flowering shrubs, but only for the next few months as she helps the store transition over to a new owner.
Mr. Tobin thanked Ms. Dice for her help during the current transition.
"Dee is a wonderful woman and an absolute godsend. If she just sold me the business and walked away, I could be pulling my hair out. But she has stayed on a while longer to help out during this period, and I am very grateful," Mr. Tobin said.
Ms. Dice said the feedback on the sale has been mostly positive, with just a sprinkling of anxiety.
"After 25 years you have a lot of systems in place, and a lot of customers relying on you for all the special things you do. I am finding during this transition some people are nervous. But I have assured them things will stay the same, for the most part. They will be in good hands with Matt," she said.