Jean Laporte, the owner of the popular J.A. Laporte's Flowers and Nursery in Orléans, isn't blaming the COVID-19 pandemic for his decision to retire and close the shop.
It just made his decision that much easier.
Laporte, 60, and his wife Estelle, started thinking about retiring long before COVID-19 pandemic started to spread locally in March of 2020. The couple have been running the nursery since 1982, when Jean took over the business from his father Roger. They say it's time to slow down.
When the province began enforcing strict COVID-19 guidelines for businesses in April of last year, Laporte was forced to cut his staff from 45 to six, and allow no more than a maximum of eight customers in the nursery at a time.
Six people to do the work of 45? With 17 greenhouses growing and 2,500 varieties of flowers, herbs, shrubs and trees to tend to, the numbers just didn't add up.
Add to the equation the seasonal nature of the nursery business. Canadian nurseries do nearly 80 per cent of the year's sales during the six weeks between Mother's Day and the July 1 weekend.
“It was a difficult decision to make,” says Laporte. “We were getting by during COVID, but it meant working seven days a week, and even then, sales were down 66 per cent. Estelle and I had many sleepless nights, but we felt the time was right.”
Located at 455 Famille-Laporte Road, Jean's parents Roger and Therese originally bought 40 acres of Orléans farmland for his garden centre in 1960. In 2014, Jean and Estelle sold 20 acres to Tamarack for housing. He says there are no immediate plans to sell the remaining 17 acres.
Moving forward, the Laportes will continue to run the nursery's wholesale business, supplying landscapers, golf courses, hotels and other corporate accounts with flowers and greenery, as well as vegetables for sale in the ByWard Market.
Not surprisingly, the decision to close the shop is hitting the Laporte family, and hundreds of customers, hard.
J.A. Laporte's was the place serious gardeners went to for plants, flowers and trees you couldn't find anywhere else in Ottawa. Staff were knowledgeable, and customers were enthusiastic; some driving from as far away as Montreal to shop and talk plants.
Margaret Trudeau, Rob Bryden and Ed Broadbent were regular customers. It served as the location for television cooking shows.
“We grow and sell 38 varieties of tomatoes,” Laporte says. “You don't get that at Walmart. That's why our customers were loyal. Orléans has been fantastic to us. We'll miss them.”
Not surprisingly, the nursery's website laportegarden.com contains hundreds of posts sending regrets and wishing the Laporte family well.
“The nursery business is therapeutic,” he adds. “It's a positive environment. I work in a big, beautiful place. Generations of families have been coming here for years. Sometimes, they come here just to sit among the flowers and be close to nature. It's good for your mental health."