In its 38th year of business, Jared’s Nursery has customers who are the third generation in their families to come through the garden center doors. It is not uncommon for staff to hear stories from customers about how they shopped there with their parents and grandparents when they were children.
While they no doubt came during the spring to buy plants for their gardens, some of their most vivid memories are of the last few months of the year when plants were fewer at Jared’s and other products and decorations were plentiful. Who can forget seeing a several hundred-pound pumpkin, playing in a corn cob pit, or feeling the adrenalin rush of venturing into a haunted house?
“We usually start promoting our major fall events at the beginning of August. Sometimes I call into the garden pro show on KEZW radio, to start talking about the growing of the pumpkins,” said Betsy Kelson, CCNP, staff horticulturalist at Jared’s Nursery in Littleton.
The fall festivities begin with the nursery’s Labor Day Sale, when all plants are 20 percent off, which is promoted through email newsletters to a list of more than 5,000 subscribers as well as affordable ads in local newspapers. Loyalty club members get a special announcement and are given access to early-bird specials with deeper discounts in appreciation for their dedicated shopping habits.
Though the sale is promoted heavily for the Labor Day weekend, the nursery continues the discounts until the inventory is reduced to the number of trees and shrubs that is manageable for overwintering. “We stop or extend the sale by the end of October, or sometimes give a little deeper discounts, but often we don’t have to because customer traffic is good,” Kelson said.
She admits that as the garden center and greenhouses are cleared of sold plants throughout September, the space begins to look curiously disheveled as the staff puts together the decorations and products for the upcoming events and displays. “There’s a buzz in the air. Customers are wondering, ‘What’s going on in there?’ While buying cheap trees, they often sneak over to the black cloths covering most of the preparatory chaos to take a peek,” she said.
Because autumn is such a beautiful time with great temperatures and lots of activities, Jared’s works hard to ensure its fall events and displays are great memory-creating attractions. The main event — a giant pumpkin contest — comes on the last Saturday of September, and is followed by month-long haunted houses, a children’s version and an adult one.
The pumpkin contest is a weigh off, the first in the state, so serious competitors can go to other weigh offs around the state. “There’s a huge club of pumpkin growers who show up with up to 25 pumpkins each year. One year, someone brought a monster squash, the heaviest entry of that year, all the way from South Dakota where it had already set the state record,” she recalled.
Though it’s planned as a one-day event, the activities often extend to two days, as the nursery hosts several thousand people, coming and going, to take selfies with the huge pumpkins, enjoy seeing the forklifts carry them and set them on the scales, and watch the award ceremony. Most look more like Jabba the Hutt than Cinderella’s carriage.
“We make sure that the store looks like fall with decorating ideas, so in customers’ minds, we are one of the go-to places of the season,” Kelson explained. “We do a lively business in corn husks, straw, pumpkins, and other decorations. After all, Halloween is the second most popular holiday for decorating.”
Jared’s provides plenty of activities and reasons to hang out, from food trucks and a band to corn hole games and a straw maze. Around 4 o’clock, if weather conditions permit, an area of the parking lot is cleared and a crane operator drops pumpkins.
“Our property’s not big enough to catapult them, but the pumpkin pieces still fly when they hit the ground,” she said.
If the haunted houses are set up in time, they open up on that day. “Our nursery staff does an awesome job of putting together a free children’s haunted house out of half of a greenhouse, and it is open during our business hours,” she said.
After hours, a “very adult and very scary” haunted house with smoke machines, scary noises and live actors is operated by an entrepreneur who leases the space from Jared’s. “He used to run a haunted house at the former Heritage Square amusement park, but when ownership changed there, he approached us about converting our greenhouses, which were vacant in October. We are a perfect location because we have a lot of acreage (25 acres) and lots of parking,” she explained.
Also in October, the nursery hosts many schools, preschools and other groups that come in to take advantage of the fall activities from decoration-making stations to corncob pits. Moms also enjoy coming in with their toddlers to enjoy an hour among the festive displays.
The gift store, which rotates seasonal and holiday displays year-round, does a brisk business. Kelson estimates sales are split equally, half and half, between plants and other products during this time.
“Originally, we were hoping the pumpkin weigh-off would bring people in a little earlier to start seeing what we had for Halloween decorating. For a few years, we did not see so much benefit on the day. It’s very hard to track whether customers remember what we have to offer and come back, but we always believed the fall events increased customer loyalty as well as bringing in new customers,” she said.
“Now, they are actually shopping. They take a break from watching pumpkins. Kids are wandering through the store, seeing the Halloween decorations and peeking behind the scenes to see the start of our Christmas holiday displays and products. So, we are seeing an uptick in sales on that day and definitely an uptick the rest of the season.”