Strawberry Hill Farms’ 28 greenhouses were full of rows of plants packed closely together Thursday.

The people shopping, though, stayed far apart.

The plant nursery has remained open since stay-at-home orders took effect Wednesday for Columbia and Boone County. Those directives asked all nonessential businesses to close and for people to stay home as much as possible for the next 30 days.

The order excludes plant nurseries, which are considered essential agricultural businesses because they sell fruit and vegetable plants.

Local nurseries have had to adapt, though. Both Summer Hill Farms and Wilson’s Garden Center & Gift Shop are offering curbside pickup and encouraging visitors to practice social distancing.

Helmi’s Gardens also began curbside pickup Wednesday and is maintaining a flexible schedule, according to its Facebook page. CMSE Giving Gardens plans to move to online orders only when it opens April 1, according to its website.

Strawberry Hill Farms owner Steven Sapp said he is taking the situation day by day.

“The plants don’t know there’s anything going on,” Sapp said. “So they’re going to continue to grow and need to be taken care of and watered and need a new home soon, so we’re trying to adapt as best we can.”

It’s easy to practice social distancing in two acres of greenhouses, Sapp said. He said the experience is more like going outside for exercise, which is allowed under the order, than it is like going to a crowded retail store.

“There are a lot of places to spread out (here), so it’s not like everybody’s in the same room,” he said. “I think in a lot of ways it’s beneficial for people, that way they can come out and they can look around and not feel like they’re in a confined space.”

Wilson’s Garden Center & Gift Shop owner Chuck Bay said business had been slow, but he attributed that more to the recent rainy weather than to the coronavirus.

“Even if people wanted to go out and plant a garden, it’s been too wet to do that,” Bay said. “My hope, of course, is with a little time, that people maybe get out and do some home improvement projects and things like that while they’re stuck at home.”

Sapp also said it was too early to tell the real impacts of the pandemic, as business had been similar to this time in past years. He is expecting a decline in the number of customers.

“It’s going to be real challenging for local business; (business is) going to be down,” he said. “I don’t think there’s any way it’s going to be quite as good as if it was just a regular spring season.”

Both owners expressed hope for the future, though, after the pandemic has run its course and people begin to go out in public again.

“Once a few weeks pass, and once they lift the quarantine and all that, I think it’s going to be amazing how many people are going to show up just because they’ve been cooped up so long,” Sapp said. “Everybody’s just going to be chomping at the bit, trying to decide, ‘When can I get outside and do things?’”

For more COVID-19 related news, see our section dedicated to COVID-19 updates.
  • Public life reporter, spring 2020. Studying print and digital news journalism. Reach me at skylarlaird@mail.missouri.edu, or in the newsroom at 882-5720

  • I've been a reporter and editor at Missouri community newspapers for 35 years and joined the Columbia Missourian in 2003. My emphasis at the Missourian is on local government and elections. You can reach me at swaffords@missouri.edu or at 573-884-5366.

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