Mailed by Gabe Barnard St. Louis
ST. LOUIS — Customers lined up outside the door of Bayer’s Garden Shop in south St. Louis on Tuesday morning at the news of the impending closure.
Owners announced this week that the 81-year-old company will permanently close the doors of its two locations on June 30.
“There will never be another one like that,” says Ingrid Schmuck, who has been shopping there for over 50 years. “Never.”
Challenges have been looming for about five years, owners Jason and Greg Bayer said, but the final decision to close was prompted by low sales this year that they can’t carry into next spring, when they typically see profits pick up Buy summer garden accessories. Challenges recruiting staff and a market “flooded” by big-box stores have hurt their business and the industry at large, they said.
“We close the deal before it’s destroyed, before it eats itself,” said Jason Bayer.
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Oscar and Hortense Bayer, grandparents of the two brothers, settled on Hampton Avenue in 1941, when St. Louis still had dirt roads. Oscar Bayer retired in 1963 and his son Ron Bayer, father of Jason and Greg, took over. Ron bought an adjoining lot to expand the shop. In 1973 he opened a second location on eight acres in Imperial.
Jason and Greg Bayer said they worked at the Imperial Shop growing up. When he was a kid, Jason Bayer told an employee to push him around in a wheelbarrow under the false threat of being fired. Employees hung him from a hook on his overalls when he got on their nerves.
The Bayers used the new location, which provided more space for storing produce and maneuvering trucks, to supply the Hampton store. Business at the new store has taken off, they said.
But around 1990, large department stores began to squeeze profits.
In 2011 Ron Bayer died of cancer and the brothers took over.
Now the competition is just too big. The brothers said products that were historically only available in gardening stores, like houseplants and mulch, are now available not only in department stores but also at grocery stores and gas stations.
The sales left over from the gardening business aren’t enough to see it through another year without debt, the Bayers said. Half of their business occurs in April and May, and the store relies mostly on these short-term profits to cover its costs through next spring.
“It’s like a fireworks booth,” said Jason Bayer.
Additionally, the company struggles to hire enough staff to handle the seven-day-a-week workload required at garden stores, such as unloading pallets of trees or soil in inclement weather and hauling mulch to cars for customers. The Bayers said they hired some who never showed up for work. And now they don’t get many applications at all, so the store is understaffed this spring.
Many of the store’s managers began working there in high school, and some have retired. New hires don’t really stay, they said, and that makes it difficult for workers to acquire an in-depth knowledge of store flowers and plants.
The company now employs 35, up from 100 in previous years.
The Bayers said they had a stomach ache when they made the decision to close. Her announcement on Monday on Facebook received 3,000 shares and hundreds of comments.
Dale Adams, a manager who has worked at the store for 44 years, said Tuesday he was “quite stunned” by the store’s closure. It’s hard to deal with all of his memories of the store, he said, as customers kept telling him they were sad it’s gone.
“To me it’s like a funeral and I’m not even dead,” Adams said.
Holli Will, a St. Louis Hills resident, said staff recently helped her find the right flowers for her home. “You can’t do that with Lowe,” she said.
“It feels like a loss in the city,” said Elsie Stapf, who visited the South St. Louis store Tuesday morning with her daughter and shopped there as a girl with her parents. “Several generations in my family are also sad.”
Photos: The 81-year-old Bayer’s Garden Shop closes in June