Nursery drying up
Pike files for bankruptcy, will close Riverside store

LAWRENCEVILLE - The Pike Family Nursery on Riverside Drive was empty of customers late Wednesday evening while a handful of employees closed the store for the day. Some of the staff had heard that the chain had filed Chapter 11 bankruptcy to others, it came as a surprise.

Company officials made the announcement Wednesday afternoon, on the eve of the chain's 50th anniversary. A hard spring freeze damaged sales, from which the company recovered. But that freeze combined with the severe drought and outdoor watering ban sent sales spiraling down to 35 percent lower than in 2006, said Wayne Juers, vice president.

"We didn't think it would last this long," Juers said. "Pike has always been aware of the need to conserve water, even during times when we had more than we knew what to do with."

None of the company's 750 employees will lose their jobs, Juers said, but officials expect to close two locations - Riverside Drive in Lawrenceville and a Conyers location.

"The demographics (at Riverside) have changed there, the traffic," Juers said. "We can relocate the employees."

A store on U.S. Highway 78 in Snellville closed previously.

Pike Family Nursery operates 22 stores in Georgia, plus single locations in Birmingham and Charlotte.

Company officials made cutbacks before filing Chapter 11, Juers said.

"We didn't hire our fall season staff - that's 200 people - and our Christmas season is only three weeks long," Juers said. "We have to make sure our employees have a paycheck they can depend on."

In connection with its Chapter 11 filing, Juers said the company secured an $11.75 million debtor-in-possession financing facility to fund its operations and meet payroll.

Pike officials have nine months to present to the courts a plan to pull the company out of bankruptcy and a total of 18 months to work its way out of it.

Customers will see a change in strategy, Juers said, a different product mix, store sizes and an increase in outdoor living inventory, such as grills and lawn furniture.

Chapter 11 bankruptcy will let Pike Family Nurseries continue to do business while paying off its creditors, but those creditors might not get dollar for dollar, Juers said. That decision will be up to the courts.

"We hate it for our vendors. These are people we have been doing business with for a long time," Juers said. "But we will pull out, just like Delta, Macy's and Texaco. We want our customers to know it is business as usual at Pike."

SideBar: At a glance

Pike Family Nurseries in Gwinnett

' 2095 Riverside Parkway, Lawrenceville

' 1105 Peachtree Industrial Blvd., Suwanee

' 6100 U.S. Highway 29, Tucker

' Support Center, headquarters at 4020 Steve Reynolds Blvd., Norcross