As I was driving along Freeport Boulevard in Sacramento yesterday, I passed the blocklong ghost of Capital Nursery. The once-thriving showcase that had provided beautiful flowers, trees and shrubs for local gardens since 1936 went out of business in 2012. The parking lot in front of the 9-acre site, which used to be jammed-packed on summer days, sits empty and forlorn.
I felt a wave of satisfaction. Who says the high and mighty don’t get their comeuppance? Here was a visible reminder of what happens when retailers don’t bother say “thank you” to loyal customers. Here’s what happens when you refuse to help a 50-year-old woman carry a 15-gallon shrub to her car on a blistering hot day.
That’s my emotionally self-serving explanation for Capital Nursery’s demise. News accounts offered different ones. A Sacrament Bee story blamed the closure of Capital’s flagship store, along with nurseries in Elk Grove and Citrus Heights, on the recession, the stagnant housing market that undercut demand for landscaping services, fierce competition from big-box stores and bargain-conscious consumers giving up service for savings. Others news accounts echoed these reasons and spoke of local gardeners’ love of Capital Nursery and their reliance on its experts to explain why the leaves on their camellias were turning yellow and peach tree failing to bear fruit.
When I became a homeowner in the early1980s, a co-worker at the Bee directed me to Capital Nursery, only a mile away. She raved about the selection and the service. “If you live in Land Park and Curtis Park, you have to go there,” she said in no-nonsense voice.
Well, I certainly wanted to go with the in-crowd, even I couldn’t afford to live in either of these upscale neighborhoods. I had bought an 1,100 square-foot-house on the fringes of Land Park respectability, just south of the city cemetery and the low-income housing projects off Broadway. The house was burglarized twice in my seven years there, but almost doubled in value. That opened the door to Land Park proper and another decade of shopping at Capital Nursery.
“Shopping” may not be the proper term. That sounds too much like an egalitarian exchange between buyer and seller. The master gardeners always made me wait a long time before delivering their pompous explanations for what ailed my plants, while the sale staff delighted in conversations with each other and seemed to expect a thank-you for allowing me to spend a few hundred bucks there.
Their ingratitude fueled a resentment in me that finally boiled over on a hot June afternoon when I was trying to complete a yard project. I had bought a pricey assortment of shrubs in the morning and worked for hours planting them. Late in the afternoon, I asked my wife to make a run to the nursery to buy a 15-gallon shrub that I needed. She returned hot, sweaty and irritated. She said the clerk had told her rather curtly they were too busy to give her a hand while not even bothering to thank her for the purchase.
Kaboom! I dropped everything and drove to the nursery. I found the culprit and, in front of a line of ever-so-humble buyers, berated him for being a low-life creep and threatened all manner of bodily harm. He took my outburst in silence as though this were just another cross he had to bear from an ill-mannered, ungrateful customer.
I vowed then that I would never again shop at Capital Nursery. I began driving seven miles to Green Acres Nursery, which had a fine selection, a relaxed atmosphere, helpful experts and checkout clerks who said “thank you” and sounded as though they meant it. The drive time was well worth the satisfaction I derived from thumbing my nose at Capital Nursery and giving my business to Green Acres.
I like to think Capital’s demise really resulted from the cumulated resentment of hundreds of customers who finally got tired of being treated like dirt. It would be instructive to other retailers, as would the continued success of Green Acres, whose experts and sales staff seem as attentive and gracious as always.