“We Built it, Obama Killed It.”

By Pete Zamplas –

That commercial landlord’s message, on the sign outside newly-closed Garden Gate Nursery, trumps the company slogan of “Beautiful gardens begin here” on the business cards.

R.F. Saltz recently put up the sign, inside the gates to protect it from any vandalism. He owns the site at 136 Hillview Blvd. north of Norm’s Minit Mart (Shell) on the Spartanburg Highway. Saltz emphasized the sign is his doing, not that of nursery owner Michael Lively. Further, Saltz waited until Lively closed shop before posting the sign so it would not alienate any customers.

Saltz was a home builder for three decades, who has seen his various enterprises pinched by lingering recession. He has tree farmed, and had unsold evergreens at the closed nursery.

He hopes to lease the site, to a new client. He tore down two old homes there, building a new structure four years ago for the nursery.

In Saltz’s view, Pres. Obama’s socialistic income redistribution with higher taxation and regulations has stifled businesses, including his client’s nursery. Thus he asserts the president essentially “killed” the business.

Saltz is confident GOP challenger Mitt Romney will unseat Obama. If not, the president no longer faces policy restraints from pending reelection and can unharness his most extreme programs. Saltz sides with many political analysts who warn that means more federal spending and debt, and thus greater taxation to ease it.

Saltz owns Brookdale Mall, a retail center with several businesses off the Greenville Highway. He said he gave the Henderson County Republican Party a “good deal,” to move its headquarters there.

“He’s more politically involved, than the rest of us,” Lively said. Lively, 38, told The Tribune that with his five-year lease up and the recession squashing his business, he is closing his nursery. But he will continue his more profitable landscaping, under the same business name and back in its prior office at 105 Tabor Rd. near the G.E. plant.

“In this economy, I couldn’t sustain my garden center,” Lively said. “Landscaping was the only viable part of the business, at all. But even that has dwindled, in the last four years.”

And thus, he is among those who realize they are far worse off now than when Obama won the White House. “By all means, I am one of the businesses which was doing quite well five years ago” when Pres. George W. Bush was in office. “We opened a retail garden center five years ago, as an extension of our busy business. We were doing fabulously well, like gangbusters. I’m certainly not better off today, than four years ago.”

Lively added, “we need new leadership for things to turn around. It’ll take several years, for the economy to recover from what has happened to it. I do feel a need to halt the current path of spending so much money. Banks need to feel more confident in lending money to business and home owners.”

Lively, 38, was 6 in 1980 when the Reagan Revolution began and recalls the era. “He was the best president we ever had.”

The worst part of closing the retail center and scaling back his landscaping was “letting everyone working for me go. There was me, my father (Mickey Lively), a third worker plus one volunteer. Now, my father is retiring. I won’t go into retail at all, again. I learned my lesson. If things get too bad, it’s tough having to stock inventory and pay employees. Other people depend on you. I do not want to go back to that.”

Instead, he is “catching up” on on-site landscaping and some handyman projects and going solo. “I’ll probably be able to make it.”

His father Michael “Mickey” Lively Sr. has landscaped for 40 years, on 1,700 homes in the county. He and then Michael were licensed landscape contractors, for a quarter-century. He had turned the business over to Michael Jr. “We design plans, and install all of the plants, trees, shrubs plus irrigation and any lighting.”

Both Livelys look beyond politics to economics, for the sagging nursery. “The economy in general did it,” Mickey said. “When no homes are built, contractors don’t need a nursery. Friends of mine are bulldozing acres of (unsold, wasted) ornamental trees, in Oregon.”

Homeowners spruce up their lots. But Michael Lively saw a trend of nursery customers buying both fewer and cheaper plants, and lowered his prices. He said his sales volume on hollies and other basic “bread and butter” shrubs plummeted from 100 a week to 50 total for the past two years. “Five years ago, everybody needed something. These past three years, people get certain items they don’t have yet and absolutely want. It’s a total switch in attitudes.”

He adjusted, to lower-priced items. “This past spring, we went heavier on knockout roses, kaleidoscope abelia and others we thought would be more popular. Even that wasn’t the answer. There wasn’t enough demand. You couldn’t afford to order the minimum” from wholesaler suppliers. “It became unsustainable.”

Garden Gate Nursery can still be reached at 692-8577. Anyone interested in leasing its former site, at 136 Hillview Blvd., can call R.F. Saltz at 693-8144.

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