Viewpoint

Reflections on 40 years in business

Family that built Coll’s Garden Center and Florist in Jaffrey recalls early days

  • The Coll's Garden Center & Florist crew paused for a photo in 2011. In the front row are Catherine Coll, Beth Coll Shepard and Pamela Royce. In the back row are Kathleen Moreau, Meredith Shepard and Bonnie Coll Cutter.

    The Coll's Garden Center & Florist crew paused for a photo in 2011. In the front row are Catherine Coll, Beth Coll Shepard and Pamela Royce. In the back row are Kathleen Moreau, Meredith Shepard and Bonnie Coll Cutter.

  • A young Bruce Coll with his father, Philip Coll, in the mid-80s working on Coll's Garden's cordwood operation.

    A young Bruce Coll with his father, Philip Coll, in the mid-80s working on Coll's Garden's cordwood operation.

  • Philip Coll loading up for a cordwood delivery.

    Philip Coll loading up for a cordwood delivery.

  • The old Chicken Coop renovated for the new site of Coll's Garden Center seven months after opening at 63 North St., the present site of the business.

    The old Chicken Coop renovated for the new site of Coll's Garden Center seven months after opening at 63 North St., the present site of the business.

  • The original street sign for Coll's Lawn & Garden Center, now Coll’s Garden Center and Florist, still standing 40 years later on North Street in Jaffrey.

    The original street sign for Coll's Lawn & Garden Center, now Coll’s Garden Center and Florist, still standing 40 years later on North Street in Jaffrey.

  • The Coll's Garden Center & Florist crew paused for a photo in 2011. In the front row are Catherine Coll, Beth Coll Shepard and Pamela Royce. In the back row are Kathleen Moreau, Meredith Shepard and Bonnie Coll Cutter.
  • A young Bruce Coll with his father, Philip Coll, in the mid-80s working on Coll's Garden's cordwood operation.
  • Philip Coll loading up for a cordwood delivery.
  • The old Chicken Coop renovated for the new site of Coll's Garden Center seven months after opening at 63 North St., the present site of the business.
  • The original street sign for Coll's Lawn & Garden Center, now Coll’s Garden Center and Florist, still standing 40 years later on North Street in Jaffrey.

Theirs is a family story, a business story and one of tenacity and creative resourcefulness, the very factors that make up each. Not surprisingly, 40 years after its opening, Coll’s Garden Center and Florist continues to thrive and serve the needs of Jaffrey and the surrounding community, inviting everyone to “Grow with us.”

Service has been the mindset since before the business’ inception. In 1973, Phillip Coll, a long-distance truck driver who missed his family life, turned to his wife, Cathie, and said, “We’re going to go into business for ourselves.” But he had one request. While he was on the road that week, he would think about what type of business Jaffrey needed. And would she consent to starting that business? Cathie, a Scottish immigrant to the U.S. at the age of 13 and no stranger to hard work, said yes to the venture. After driving all week, he returned and declared that Jaffrey needed a garden center. Turns out, he was right.

He continued to drive the truck for three years while Cathie — whose three children, Bonnie, Beth and Bruce, had all entered school — spent her days starting their business, while everyone pitched in and, as Cathie said, “learned while we grew.”

They started out of their small garage shed, and sold garden supplies and their own vegetable starts, adding outdoor power equipment and animal feeds and later cordwood.

How do they compete with the box stores? Service, service, service. Cathie says there are “those who are curious, go and see, but they come back.”

Like a good business, the family has grown up with the store. Bonnie said her son, Alex Cutter, 33, was “here as a baby and the customers watched him grow. He learned to walk pushing a lawn mower from building to building.”

The family is flexible and wears many hats. Beth, for example, often split, loaded, and delivered cordwood alone. In response to her question of where to put the wood, customers would often direct her to “tell your driver to put it there,” to which she answered, “But I am the driver.”

The community got to know the Colls and their unwavering determination and hard work.

“Dad was a talented businessman and a chainsaw guru,” Beth said, and mentored many a young entrepreneur. Undaunted by reasonable business risk or rolling up his sleeves, Phil Coll began to acquire large equipment and expand the business again. He built the buildings and the business, and they all continued to thrive. His passing in 2007 created an irreplaceable gap as “he had a lot in his head,” Cathie said. The community responded to the news with an outpouring of love and support. Folks just walked in and asked what they could do: “Water some plants? Make some calls? Whatever you need.”

The ice storm of December 2008 brought out the very best in Coll’s. On day two, they saw the need and took action, ordering additional chain saws, two-stroke oil , chain loops and generators for the community. They remained open 15 hours a day, without electricity, and sold over 50 chainsaws, along with generators, without the ability to ring up a sale. In true Jaffrey fashion, they took care of the need without concern, saying, “I’ll call you later with the price.” Cathie smiles, but does not appear surprised when she says, “There was not a single instance of dishonesty.”

And from their very first customer, Alymer Given Sr., who on March 30, 1973, was served by the children — since the adults had gone up to the house for a quick tea break after a completely quiet morning — to today, 40 years hence, the younger Colls still come in after school, crank up the country music and get to work, pitching in together with a constant hum of work and family, flexibility and fun.

According to Calvin Coolidge, “No enterprise can exist for itself alone. It ministers to some great need, it performs some great service, not for itself, but for others; or failing therein, it ceases to be profitable and ceases to exist.”

In fact, during the entire length of this interview, Bonnie Cutter, a director on the Jaffrey Chamber of Commerce’s Board, was wearing two hats, and also working on arranging thoughtful and gorgeous funeral baskets for a family in Rindge, while providing insight and humor to the story — the perfect picture of a balanced working family meeting the needs of the community.

Sue Lyle is an innkeeper at the
Benjamin Prescott Inn in Jaffrey. Coll’s
Garden Center will hold an open house on Saturday, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., in
celebration of its 40 years in business.

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