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Fluctuating State Rules An Exercise In Frustration For Local Garden Centers

Washington Greenhouse via Facebook

Are greenhouses essential or non-essential under the stay-at-home order? One local greenhouse owner said continually changing guidance from the state is throwing these businesses into disarray.

Barrett Haag of the Washington Greenhouse said many customers are buying veggies and herbs to grow their own "victory gardens" during the COVID-19 outbreak. But he's been closing and reopening as new rules come out from the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity.

"Two days ago, they were telling us, you're fine, you can be open, you're fine. Take the steps necessary to protect your customers and your employees," he said. "And then the bombshell dropped that, no, you have to close your doors and do curbside pickup and online ordering only."

The greenhouse closed when the order first went into effect on March 20, reopened April 1 after receiving clarification on the governor's executive order, but then closed again earlier this week when the rules were revised. Haag said Washington Greenhouse's small staff is now scrambling to set up an online sales platform with the assistance of Le Fleur, a local florist shop with some experience in e-commerce.

But he warns the continually-changing rules are creating a hardship for local gardening businesses during their peak sales season from which some might not be able to recover. About 70 percent of the greenhouse's sales come in April and May - and can't be recouped later in the year.

Haag said the state is setting a double standard the big box stores with gardening sections across the street aren't dealing with. He said those garden centers aren't hamstrung by the delivery and curbside pickup restrictions.

"Why is the only designated retail garden center in Washington the only place that's not able to sell what it specializes in? That's been the most frustrating part for us," he said.

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Tim Shelley is the News Director at WCBU Peoria Public Radio.