Not ready for retirement

Owner expands greenhouse business 10 years after end of teaching career

Published on June 2, 2014
Leonard Hickey, owner and operator of Hickey’s Greenhouses and Nursery Ltd., recently opened a new and expanded location in Kelligrews, Conception Bay South. — Photo by Andrew Robinson/The Telegram

At 66, Leonard Hickey is far from complacent when it comes to operating his nursery business.

Having started out 24 years ago in his home community of Dunville, in 2005 the retired school teacher opened another Hickey's Greenhouses and Nursery Ltd. location in Kelligrews.

Having recently moved to a brand-new site in a 12,000 square-foot greenhouse, Hickey is in no mood for retirement. The end of his teaching career a decade ago may have afforded him the opportunity to do just that, but he was not interested.

“I don’t have a set time or a year that I will retire or anything like that, but there are a lot of factors to consider,” said Hickey. “You have to think about down the road what your health is like and that. But you know, I see no reason to retire and do nothing. I started working at a gas station when I was in Grade 7, and I’ve been working summers ever since.”

Gardening was a part of his family life growing up in a household with 14 siblings. The Hickeys grew root vegetables, and Leonard’s own green thumb received additional encouragement following a visit to his sister’s garden centre business in the United States.

“I thought it would be a nice thing to do. There was nothing in my area out home in Placentia, nothing like that,” Hickey said.

His wife Elaine remembers how Leonard used to garden prior to opening a business.

“When I met him, he had two wooden-frame greenhouses up on his father’s property. Didn’t have fans or anything. They weren’t commercial, but he had two greenhouses full of stuff that he was giving away then.”

The new location in Kelligrews is just up the road from the old site on the Conception Bay South Highway. Construction began last September, with the greenhouse finally open for business in May on the Friday before Mother’s Day.

“The town is growing, and we were getting more people and more customers,” explains Hickey. “We thought maybe there was potential to expand, so we looked into it and decided that’s what we’ll do.”

With the extra space comes the opportunity to sell more decorative garden items, such as fountains and pottery. The greenhouse also carries plenty of vegetable plants, flowers, trees and shrubs.

As a member of the International Garden Centre Association, the Hickeys have travelled to several foreign countries to get different perspectives on where the industry is heading. The new site will eventually look to introduce features associated with European garden centres. The Hickeys hope to one day open a cafe behind the greenhouse, where a natural stream also flows.

“Most of the big garden centres in Europe and Australia — some of them have full scale restaurants — but a lot of them have cafes,” said Leonard Hickey.

The greenhouse may also host a farmers’ market in the fall. Leonard hopes to partner with local farmers and give them the opportunity to sell fresh produce under a roof instead of beside the road.

The business not only keeps Leonard from retiring — he estimates half the staff working in the two locations are retirees.

“It’s a seasonal operation, and it’s difficult to recruit younger, full-time people into a seasonal operation,” he said. “It’s a great supplement to income for retired people.”