Roots run deep at Falmouth's thriving garden centers

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FALMOUTH — While it’s difficult for small businesses to survive, two local gardening supply businesses have found a way to thrive.

Skillins Greenhouses, a fifth-generation family-owned business, opened in 1885. Based at 89 Foreside Road, the business has locations in Brunswick and Cumberland, and a production center on Depot Road.

Terry Skillin, the company’s president, said part of the recipe for success has been that Skillins has always “worked hard to stay connected” to the community and be a place for people to gather.

“We are the farm of the community,” Skillin said.

Meanwhile, Allen, Sterling & Lothrop, a garden and wholesale supply company, has eclipsed the 100-year anniversary of the company’s original storefront on Commercial Street in Portland. 

Shawn Brannigan, the company’s general manager, said the original location opened in 1911, but moved to Falmouth in 1969 when Portland took the building by eminent domain. Brannigan’s grandfather analyzed the current spot at 191 U.S. Route 1, and another on Route 100, before “luckily” picking Route 1.

Both Brannigan and Skillin cited loyal customers as a major factor in staying in business so long, especially when larger stores like Wal-Mart and its garden center are nearby on Route 1.

“We just keep diversifying with the times and finding products that the big-box stores just don’t carry,” Brannigan said, such as local plants and a diverse selections of fertilizers, soils and seeds.

“We listen to our customers and are always responding to their needs,” Skillin said. He added the stores try to keep colorful things that people want in their homes and offices, and the employees work at getting to know their customers’ gardens and yards.

Still, it’s not always a walk in the park for small businesses like these. Both depend not only on loyal customers, but also on the weather. And increasing energy costs can be a burden.

“It’s not easy being a small business these days,” Brannigan said.

Thankfully for these two businesses, it has been a good spring and summer for gardening following a harsh winter.

“The economy seems to be in our favor this year,” Brannigan said.

“(Business has) been fantastic,” Skillin added. “We’ve had a great spring, and people are enthusiastic.”

Brannigan said a large portion of Allen, Sterling’s business comes from wholesale and landscape contracting, added that his business and Skillins are places where “people who are really into gardening go.”

Allen, Sterling has 16 employees, and Skillins has about 120.

“We know our product,” Skillin said, adding that everyone who works there is a gardener, too.

“Most of our employees have been here for years,” Brannigan added. “They’re like family too.”

Colin Ellis can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 123 or Follow him on Twitter: @colinoellis.

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Shawn Brannigan, general manager of Allen, Sterling and Lothrop at 191 U.S. Route 1 in Falmouth, said a loyal customer base helps keep his 114-year-old company in business.

Brannigan said Allen, Sterling’s employees work hard to keep their plants looking healthy, and to have a diverse selection of fertilizers, soils and seeds.

Terry Skillin is the president of Skillins Greenhouses, which has locations at 89 Foreside Road in Falmouth, and at 422 Bath Road in Brunswick and 201 Gray Road in Cumberland.

Inside Skillins Greenhouses in Falmouth, where Terry Skillin said having a knowledgeable staff and loyal customers are major keys to success.

Reporter covering the Portland Public School District as well as the town of Falmouth for The Forecaster. Can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 123 or