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  • Hector Amezcua /

    As Capital Nursery marked down its merchandise in a liquidation, 16-month-old Scarlett Aston sniffs a flower at the Elk Grove store. That site and the Citrus Heights nursery will close by year's end, just months after the flagship store shuttered on Freeport Boulevard. Owners thought they could get by with revenue from the sale of that site, but kept losing money.

  • Hector Amezcua /

    Dale Williams and his wife, Ruby, leave Capital Nursery's Elk Grove store Wednesday with marked-down merchandise as the garden center prepares to shut.

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Capital Nursery closing its last two stores

Published: Thursday, Nov. 15, 2012 - 12:00 am | Page 1B
Last Modified: Thursday, Nov. 15, 2012 - 7:17 am

The day lilies were marked down, the pink princesses and crape myrtles, too – 50 percent off, the signs read – and customers were already offering their condolences.

The final two Capital Nursery stores in Citrus Heights and Elk Grove will close by the end of the year, the company announced Wednesday, two months after the nursery's 76-year-old Freeport Boulevard flagship store shut its doors for the last time.

"We really thought we could make a go of it," said Karen Cooksey, a member of Capital Nursery's board of directors. "It's really sad. I hope everybody understands that we had to."

For many in the Sacramento area, there has seemingly always been a Capital Nursery.

The first, opened by a pair of brothers on Freeport, debuted in 1936, followed by locations on Sunrise Boulevard in 1963 and Elk Grove Boulevard in 1984 – becoming a generational touchstone for those with their hands in the soil.

Local gardening expert and radio personality Fred Hoffman reckoned that "every home in Sacramento has at least one plant from Capital Nursery," so deep are the business' roots in the region.

Justin Astin, 34, said he has been coming to the Capital Nursery in Elk Grove since he was a child. Late on Wednesday morning, he took advantage of the closeout sales, loading sacks of soil and manure into his car.

So ingrained was Capital Nursery in Elk Grove, that "we always called it the Elk Grove nursery," he said. "It's been the only nursery around since I was a kid. It's the only nursery I've known."

Liquidation sales are under way and Capital Nursery is set to close by Dec. 31 "or faster if we can," said Carr McClendon, the company's general manager.

Times have been tough for local independent nurseries. Sierra Nursery in Roseville, Windmill Nursery in Carmichael and Flora Tropicana in Elk Grove are all closed.

"You've got drugstores, hardware stores, grocery stores, all selling plants," McClendon said.

Add to that the fierce competition from the big-box stores that siphoned away customers; a badly damaged housing market that dried up demand for landscaping; and bargain-conscious consumers giving up service for savings.

Against that backdrop, company officials saw September's closing of the Freeport location as their last chance to save the business.

Selling the Sacramento property to the Raley's supermarket chain was supposed to provide Capital with needed oxygen to consolidate, cut costs and regroup.

"We really thought we'd be able to consolidate and make a go of it. It didn't work," Cooksey said. "We were hopeful, but we were losing money every day we kept open."

McClendon said the economy was the final nail. "We set out a sales budget ... and we weren't even coming close to it," he said. "It was just awful. It wasn't the company, it wasn't the people, it was the economy."

Also entering into the decision to close was a serious offer made on the 6-acre Sunrise Boulevard property.

"There is an offer. It's in the very early stages," Cooksey said, without elaborating. "That is a spectacular corner – one of the busiest corners in Sacramento."

It's a desirable location that has generated strong interest, said Steve Chamberlain, a senior vice president at Colliers International, who has been marketing the property for about 60 days. He declined to discuss potential buyers.

Ken Noack Jr., a senior vice president with Cornish & Carey Commercial Newmark Knight Frank, called the site "the gateway to the Sunrise Marketplace retail corridor. Obviously it's a good candidate for any major retailer coming into the market."

But Hoffman said Capital Nursery's closing, together with the shuttering of other local independent nurseries, leaves a void for Sacramento's gardeners, saying the "brain drain" of plant talent will be hard to replace.

"This leaves two fewer places to get horticultural advice," he said. "It's two fewer places where you can get quality plants and quality advice."

That's bad news for gardeners like Janet Macias.

"This is a Sacramento-area institution for planting," said Macias, outside the Capital Nursery on Elk Grove Boulevard. "It's our source for information. It's 'You have a sick plant? Take it down to Capital.' We're losing an institution."

A lost institution also means lost jobs for dozens of Capital Nursery employees. Capital Nursery's 67 employees received the news Tuesday in meetings at each shop.

"Yesterday was a sad day," Cooksey said. Some employees were shocked, she said, but others knew the day was coming.

"Most people saw the writing on the wall. It was just going downhill," Cooksey said. "But everybody still had hope. It's human nature."

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