Four Generations Later, McArdle’s Busier Than Ever


James-McArdle-FI

By Sara Poirier Correa
Sentinel Correspondent

It’s a sunny Saturday afternoon in August, and Igor Lotkin of Trumbull is picking up some flowers for his wife. Usually a grocery store-flower kind of guy, on this hot summer day Lotkin, who works in Greenwich, is kicking it up a few notches.

His florist of choice: McArdle’s Florist & Garden Center, a 105-year-old business at 48 Arch Street that prides itself on “wonderful clientele” and “excellent customer service.”

“We try to provide excellent customer service consistently,” fourth-generation owner James McArdle said. “That’s something we emphasize over and over again.”

McArdle’s began in 1905 with its founders, James and Mary McArdle, wanting to supply landscapers with what they needed to beautify Greenwich’s grand estates.

“Today,” the mcardles.com website says, “our love of beautiful spaces is behind every customer’s success in all things horticultural, whether preparing for the holidays, perfecting poolside gardens or upgrading corporate offices.”

McArdle, the great-grandson of James and Mary, was general manager for two decades before taking over as owner three years ago, when his father, Jim, retired. McArdle and his wife, Christine, parents of three children, who have all worked at the store, now steer the ship.

In the past few years, McArdle said, he and his staff have seen a change in gardening culture.

“There are fewer gardeners in town now than 10 years ago,” McArdle said, “and that is true nationwide.”

Lotkin, who told the Greenwich Sentinel he has a “decent garden” at home, admitted he is one of those who had neglected his garden this year.

“The [Generation] Y’ers and X’ers don’t share the same type of enthusiasm for gardening today,” McArdle said. “It’s a different type of gardener today.”

Keeping in line with the changing times, McArdle’s Florist & Garden Center doesn’t offer any chemicals on its shelves—but rather keeps them in the back—and has a real focus on organic gardening.

“It’s great,” McArdle said of the recent industry shift. “It’s not only better for the environment, it’s better for the plant.”

“The recession made us more sensitive to customer service and to value,” the owner continued. “I think today’s consumer really places a really strong emphasis on value.

“If [customers] purchase something, they want to make sure they are getting a good return on their investment. We place a strong emphasis on that—that everything is finished and polished.”

From parties, holidays or proms, to weddings, funerals or holidays, at home or at work, McArdle’s caters to customers’ many needs for flowers and plants.

“We’ve proven ourselves and changed a lot of things according to what the clientele is looking for, and they’ve responded well,” said Michael Derouin, the garden center’s director of floral design.

Derouin, who himself prepared the bouquet of sunflowers, yellow roses, calla lilies and hydrangea for new customer Lotkin, has been with the store for eight years. He is in charge of buying products, as well as arranging flowers for gifts, parties, weddings and anything interior.

“We’re very fortunate in our industry to work at a place [like McArdle’s],” Derouin said, referring to the business’s family-oriented approach.

Part of being a family business is catering to families, as is evident with the annual Reindeer Festival, wherein live reindeer visit with customers while making their home on McArdle’s front lawn for the winter holiday season. The event, now in its sixth year, is a popular draw for many parents and children.

Longtime Greenwich resident Molly Berlin, who last year brought her young son and daughter to see the reindeer for the first time, said of the attraction, “It’s a little piece of the North Pole in Greenwich.”

McArdle said the idea for the Reindeer Festival came from a local marketing firm that approached him. He said he loves the “community spirit” it has brought.

“Even though we’ve been around for a while, we don’t take that for granted,” McArdle said.

Two years ago, McArdle’s underwent an interior remodeling, and in 2010, when the business celebrated its centennial, its team members planted 100 trees around town in conjunction with members of the Boys and Girls Club, which also celebrated 100 years.

McArdle’s At Home division is another recent addition to the business’s offerings.

While store employees had always gone to customers’ homes on a small, case-by-case basis to do plantings, there is now a team dedicated to landscaping homes, inside and out—whether it’s planting outdoor container gardens, decking the halls for the holidays, or finding the right plants for the right piece of land.

“Our staff here, it’s really a function of them and wanting to help customers find solutions,” McArdle said of the business’s continued success.

“It starts in the heart with a desire to want to help people,” he said, adding that that is the first criterion considered when he hires a new employee. “We can train them in other categories, but you can’t really graft that desire into someone’s wiring structure, so to speak.”

Margaret Mikolenko, who has 30 years’ experience with flowers and plants, works on the store’s outside displays. She helps customers find the right fit for their needs.

“I like to nurture,” Mikolenko said of why she loves the materials she works with. “You nurture them, then they grow.”

Referring to it as “free therapy,” Mikolenko said there are no mistakes when it comes to gardening, and she urged amateur gardeners to “never give up.”

She said when attempting to plant a garden, the biggest factors to consider are location and sunlight exposure. Do research or talk to a McArdle’s team member about what plants and flowers will work best, Mikolenko said.

“It’s always a work in progress,” she said of a garden. “Don’t be afraid to change things and move them around.”

McArdle, who himself showed an early interest in plants and flowers, even studying them in college, said the secret to a good garden is “knowing what you can handle from a caring standpoint.”

“If you are moving into a new home, don’t plant the whole yard at once,” McArdle advised. “Get to know the property over the course of the year and the seasons, and in year two, plant, but plant every month.

“If you plant every month, it allows you to see what’s in bloom every month. The first year, plants need a lot of babying.”

In addition to selling and installing products, McArdle’s offers workshops for customers young and old looking to sharpen their green thumbs. Upcoming workshops include one on fall edibles—planting and harvesting, fall vegetables and herbs, as well as a cooking demonstration.

For more on what McArdle’s Florist & Garden Center has to offer, including a blog and signing up for e-mail gardening tips, visit its website, stop by, or call 203-661-5600.

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