Forest and Floral Garden Center changes hands
The business at 701 Fair Ave. in Park Rapids has served customers since 1959, and got its fourth owners on April 28.
Christine and Kevin Jessen owned Forest and Floral Garden Center for 27 years, only its third owners since it started in 1959.
The era ended on April 28 when they sold the business at 701 Fair Ave. to Erik and Jenna Lageson.
The Jessens bought Forest and Floral from Don and Toni James in 1995, after Kevin worked a summer job there. When the Jameses decided to sell, Kevin seized the opportunity, Chris said during a recent interview with both couples.
Starting with a small store that’s now an employee break room and 50 feet of greenhouse, the Jessens added a new store, a quonset hut, four greenhouses and a lot of internet and social media savvy.
“Business has changed,” said Kevin. “We do a lot less field and a lot more container growing, on the beds in the back. We’ve got 11 acres here. We utilize it in a lot of different ways. Erik’s got some changes going on already.”
The also Jessens raised two kids in a house on the premises. An employee will now live there, serving as the garden center’s caretaker, since the Lagesons recently built their own home.
History of service
Prior to the Jessens’ 27-year run, the Jameses also owned Forest and Floral for more than 20 years, as had founding owners Art and Ada Moehlman..
Kevin voiced the hope that Erik and Jenna will keep the shop open for at least another 28 years, “so they beat us.”
Erik also owns and operates Minnesota Diversified Services, a landscaping company with 10 employees, which he plans to move to the garden center whose seven workers have agreed to stay on.
Jenna’s work experience is mostly in the healthcare field, lately as a registration clerk at CHI St. Joseph’s Health in Park Rapids. The couple has two children, aged 9 and almost 4.
“They’re definitely gonna learn how to weed,” said Erik.
“Riding bikes in the greenhouse,” Jenna added.
“Yeah, I think that was day one,” said Erik. “It’s gonna be an adventure.”
Erik also had a job at Forest and Floral, starting at age 14, and was friends with the Jessens’ son growing up. So, he grew up running around on the property. Later, he worked for an excavating company and then in construction before starting his own business.
“Erik had said before, he was going to buy the place,” Kevin admitted. “We just kinda didn’t take him seriously.”
“I think it’s time,” Chris said, reflecting that the latest tour group from ABC Preschool included children of the children in their first tours.
When the Jessens decided to start looking for an exit, they listed the property with Affinity Real Estate, expecting it to take three or four years to sell. Instead, it sold right away.
“Jack (Brann) was awesome to work with,” Chris said of Affinity’s broker. “It was a very good, smooth transaction.”
However, Kevin said, “This happened a little faster than we anticipated. We’re gonna be reeling just a little bit, trying to figure out which direction we’re going.”
“We’ve been told by everybody involved that this is a very unconventional deal,” said Erik.
“Usually there’s a lot of rigmarole and washboards and hubbubs and hiccups, but we had very little,” said Chris. “It was a good, well-thought out decision.”
Erik explained, “A big portion of my client base was already coming from here, for my landscaping work, on referrals from Kevin and Chris. And part of it was, I would have hated to see somebody that wanted to grow into the landscaping industry buy this place and then take up a lot of work. I didn’t want to see it go into the wrong hands.”
In short, he wasn’t keen on having a competitor as his supplier, instead of a friend.
Meanwhile, Chris is just happy they found a buyer who won’t put up apartment buildings.
“I didn’t want to see this place change,” Erik agreed. “Since I was 14, I’ve always had a special place in my heart for this property.”
Apart from landscaping products and services – such as outdoor paving and rock – and some minor rearrangement on the retail side, the Lagesons said they plan to keep Forest and Floral pretty much the same.
“They do want to continue with the tradition of the quality plants and the selection of trees, shrubs and perennials that Park Rapids has gotten used to,” said Chris.
“Everything the same, just new faces, and keep it going,” Jenna agreed.
Asked about their feelings about the change, Chris became choked up while Kevin answered, “Lots of things we’re gonna miss. Customers. We’ve made a lot of friends. … The first time you plant the greenhouse; you walk in and smell the dirt. That’s a rough one. Definitely gonna miss that.”
“We’ve met a lot of amazing people over the years,” added a tearful Chris. “A lot of really good friends. A lot of really good employees, that never really were employees; they were friends. We’re gonna miss that. … We didn’t have a job; it was so much fun.”
“This year we’re just gonna hang out and breathe, play with the grandkids,” said Kevin.
“Hang out with our parents,” Chris agreed. “Do some of the things that we’ve neglected doing over the years. Buy a new fishing pole.”
She said they plan to stay in Hubbard County. “We like the community and the people, and our family is here. We’ll probably be their best customers this first year.”
“It’s gonna be an adventure, and I’m looking forward to it,” said Jenna. “I’m excited to be more into the community, like you guys were. I just hope I can be as good as Christine.”
“They’re gonna be fine,” said Chris. “They’re excited and interested and engaged. They’re young; they’re vibrant. They’re bringing a fresh perspective.”
“If I can’t figure something out, usually the first person I’m gonna ask is this guy,” Erik said, indicating Kevin.
“I’ve kind of exhausted my knowledge now,” Kevin hedged.
“I don’t know,” said Erik. “I think there’s still some left in there.”