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VOL. 124 | NO. 56 | Monday, March 23, 2009

Man Bankrolls New Nursery From Personal Savings

By Tom Wilemon

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“It’s been a long time since I’ve been this excited about something.”
– Mike Earnest
Midtown Nursery
Mike Earnest
2120 Central Ave.
Official Opening:
March 28
SPRING PLANTING: Mike Earnest hangs ferns at Midtown Nursery at 2120 Central Ave. Although the new business isn’t slated to open until March 28, people are already stopping in to buy plants. – PHOTO BY TOM WILEMON

Mike Earnest didn’t let a frozen credit market or a beaten-down economy stop him from pursuing a business opportunity.

He pictured a nursery the moment he spotted a “for lease” sign at the northwest corner of Central Avenue and Cooper Street. Instead of going to a financial institution for a business loan, he bankrolled Midtown Nursery with his own savings.

“A lot of my friends thought I was crazy opening up a business with the economy the way it is, but I felt like if I did not make a move this year, next year when the economy is better – hopefully – the building may not be here,” he said. “I thought if I can get in there this year and kind of break even, then hopefully next year it will be better.”

Midtown Nursery is slated to open March 28, but Earnest is already selling plants. People see the ferns hanging outside the old service station and stop to inquire about them.

“Thirty-seven-thousand cars a day go through this location,” he said.

In bloom

Earnest’s plan is to sell only plants, mulch, pots and soil at first, then add decorative garden items. He decided to open the nursery in part because his other business plan got sidelined.

“I also have some rental houses,” he said. “My plan on my rental houses was to get up to 10 houses, then the market got so bad that if you have over four houses, the banks are not even talking to you, so that’s why I thought I would venture out in this.”

Earnest, who said he loves working in the yard at his Olive Branch home, previously managed the nursery department at a big-box retailer. He said there’s a demand for a nursery in Midtown because the only place to buy plants in the immediate area is Home Depot.

Two other nurseries are on Poplar Avenue near Chickasaw Gardens. One of them, Stringer’s Chickasaw Gardens, which had put its property up for sale, announced in mid-February that it has decided not to actively market the location and “will remain open for the foreseeable future.”

Earnest said the response he’s received so far shows Midtown residents want a nursery closer to their homes.

“When we’ve been here working, people have stopped in, wanting to know what’s going on,” Earnest said. “I’ve told them, and they’ve been so excited about it.”

He’s operating on a shoe-string budget so far. He and Faye Garner are the only two employees. His son, Caleb Earnest, is helping out with promotional materials for the new business.

He plans to have the nursery open seven days a week: 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Saturday and 1 p.m. to 6 p.m. on Saturdays.

Breath of fresh air

Although the location should benefit from a good traffic count, Earnest said he is somewhat concerned about ingress and egress. He plans to have parking on both streets, but no cross-through traffic on the corner lot.

“Parking is a little concern,” he said. “Right now, it’s trial and error. I think the weekend will be the busiest time, Saturdays and Sundays.”

Earnest has been distributing a postcard with information about the business in nearby neighborhoods with the opening date, his cell phone number and plants that he will sell: Easter lilies, hanging basket, bedding plants, vegetable and herb plants, tropicals and ferns.

“A lot of my bedding plants will be from Scarbrough Plants, a local nursery here in Memphis,” he said. “I’ve been working with them for 20-something years.”

His favorite flowering plant is the hibiscus.

“We’re going to have a lot of different colored hibiscus,” he said. “We’ll have some braided ones and regular, straight hibiscus, dwarf and regular-sized.”

Earnest was scheduled to have land-line telephone service installed on Friday so he could set up a system for credit and debit card purchases. This week, more shipments of plants will come in.

“It’s been a long time since I’ve been this excited about something,” he said.

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