Metzler's Nursery plans offshoot

Longtime Howard firm to introduce produce, deli foods, baked goods

Small business

Howard Business

March 20, 2000|By Amanda J. Crawford | Amanda J. Crawford,Sun Staff

For 36 years, John and Dotty Metzler were mostly content with selling seeds and plants for gardens throughout Howard County at their nursery on Owen Brown Road.

But as yellow forsythia buds blossomed this season, so did a plan to reinvent the garden center. Over the next three years, Metzler's will begin to sell produce as well as deli foods and baked goods.

"It just goes hand in hand," Dotty Metzler said. "People like to browse, so they could come any time and not feel like they have to rush home. They can stop and get something to eat."

Founded by the couple the year they were married, 1964, Metzler's Nursery is the oldest garden center in the county, the company says. Spread across 5 acres, it has come a long way since John Metzler began landscaping yards.

"We just started from bare bones," John Metzler said. "A pickup truck and a used lawn mower were the beginning."

He was 27 years old when he launched his business from his home on Jerry's Drive. He said his love for plants took root growing up on his parents' dairy farm in Martinsburg, Pa.

"The seed was probably sown by my mother, a great gardener," he said.

Metzler, 63, began dreaming about opening a garden center while studying horticulture at Goshen College in Indiana. He moved to Maryland after graduation to conduct plant research for the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Dotty Metzler, 56, was in nursing school in Clearfield, Pa., when she met John on a blind date. Instead of patients, she said, "I care for plants now." But she points out the oxygen-purifying benefits of plants for homes and offices.

The Metzlers moved their business to its current location in 1971 and opened a retail center on the property behind their white farmhouse. Over the years, the business expanded to include a full-service florist and an abundant selection of gifts ranging from bird feeders and wind chimes to candles and bubble bath.

They also added a large greenhouse and, eventually, a greenhouse cover to shelter the plants and their customers from inclement weather. In 1998, they opened a second location, near Eldersburg.

The nursery employs 50 people at both locations during peak seasons. The number drops to about 15 in January and February.

The Metzlers' two children, who picked up trash and watered plants when they were young, help run the company. Katrina Metzler Bellofatto, 33, is manager of the floral gift division, and Hans, 31, who has a degree in horticulture and business administration, is the chief financial officer.

Metzler's is also home to a cat, two parrots, two rabbits, two goats and a number of goldfish.

As 6-year-old Zechariah Bennett of Columbia played in the adjacent playground and made a timid attempt to pet a goat, his mother, Janice, looked at spruce trees.

"I can let him play at the playground while I shop. That's a nice feature," she said. "They have good plants and good service, and they seem to know what they're talking about."

But, said John Metzler, "If the company is standing still, it's going downhill."

That's why he is looking to expand again by offering food and produce to his customers.

"We want to become a true destination store," he said.

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