Hischier Nursery, which has helped beautify Modesto homes and gardens for 62 years, may be changing hands soon, owner Thomas Chaplin said Friday.
Deep discounts and dwindling inventory over the past few days have fueled rumors of a closure.
Chaplin, who bought the business 16 years ago from Peter and Shirley Hischier and retained the name, wouldn't say whether the nursery would close, even if he can't sell it. Nor would he comment on why he is selling.
"It'd be premature," he said.
After the Hischiers sold the business at 1520 Standiford Ave. in 1992 to their then-manager, Peter Hischier continued working there part time for a while.
"But we haven't been there for more than a year," Shirley Hischier said.
The nursery sells plants, soil, gardening supplies, fountains and outdoor decorator items. Its employees, 15 to 20 depending on the season, offered gardening tips and advice to customers who often pulled the nursery's trademark red wagons behind them filled with plants.
While the Hischiers no longer own the business, they own the property and have no plans to sell. The two-acre site has frontage along busy Standiford, between Tully and Carver roads, in northwest Modesto.
"We have had people interested, but I don't want to say anything until the ink is dry on the paper," Peter Hischier said.
While Chaplin would not link his decision to the slow economy, others in the nursery business say they are feeling the crunch. Several things at once have kept customers at home and affected business: declining home values, the economic downturn, high gas prices and, most recently, the heat wave and poor air quality because of fires.
"Business is soft," said Scenic Nursery owner Jim Rogers. "We've talked to a lot of wholesale vendors around the valley, and what I'm hearing is that this is the worst recession ever in our industry."
Nurseries generally get by during hard times because people hold on to their money by staying home and puttering in the yard, Rogers said. But with home values on a downward spiral, fewer people are doing that.
"Even if your income hasn't changed, you don't feel like spending money," he said.
Business was good a few years ago, when home values were higher, said Ron Hoffman, who owns Morris Nursery on Patterson Road in Riverbank.
"The economy is definitely hitting us hard, but we're holding our own. We expect downturns and put enough away when times are good," Hoffman added.
Greenery Nursery on Olive Avenue in Turlock is seeing less business, too.
"We feel we haven't lost customers. Our customers are loyal, but they're spending less," said manager Rick Hotchkiss. "It was noticeable even before the gas thing."
Bee staff writer Eve Hightower can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 578-2382.