Growing into the community: Munden Garden Mart

Retirement short-lived after couple returns to her Munden roots and start new business

By Lance Rundus Special to The Telescope

After working and living abroad and then in the Kansas City area, Barb Newcomb (Sterba) and Gary Lightfoot decided to retire from the “big city” and return to Barb’s roots.

Despite many wonderful friends and neighbors, they say they missed the way that people were really neighbors in small towns. So after a lot of deliberation they downsized and built a new home on North Main Street in Munden, and purchased Trzicky’s old station to house their 57 Ford.

As they were landscaping their own property, Barb noticed there wasn’t anywhere nearby to purchase flowers, trees, and shrubs. As the couple got bored with retirement, they decided to open a garden store.

What started as a few flowers has blossomed into a new business on Main Street in Munden. Now in addition to a large selection of annual and perennial flowers, trees, and shrubs, they also keep in stock seeds and plants for vegetable gardens and are a full line Scott’s dealer.

In the fall they stock fall flowers, pumpkins and straw bales.
The couple says their motive is rooted not in profit but in living a good life in community.

Last year was a modest success for the new business, as Barb says, “We’re not making a lot of money at it, but we’re not in it to make a lot of money.”

Beyond the normal start up costs for a new business, the erratic spring weather coupled with the loss of one of their green houses to the storms in early March have provided for unforeseen difficulties and expense.

All the same, the new owners were up to the challenge. The debris from theold green house was quickly cleared away. The front of the Garden Mart was renovated to provide not only more shelter for the remaining green houses, but also to provide a large display area.

They were able to manage all the changes and provide sample indoor space for their fragile stock before the late winter storm on April 14.

Despite the unfavorable weather conditions and difficulties, the owners remain optimistic.

“Sure, the weather is bad right now, but things are going to get better,” Barb says with a smile.

The community has played a huge role in the last year at Munden Garden Mart, the couple says.

When asked about community support the new business owners are quick to recognize the assistance of Loren Kisby (Prohoe Mfg.) for the use of his forklift whenever delivery trucks come in, but then they proceed with a long list of volunteers from the little town, probably about a quarter of the overall population.

“Everybody kind of looks out for us and that’s what makes this a great area.” Gary says, “Munden is just a great community . . . a lot of people don’t know how good a place Munden is to live. . . people just don’t know about it.”

The feelings are mutual.

Long-time Munden resident, Merlin Trzicky says, “Everybody is hoping for them to do good. Weather can affect how they do and nobody can account for the weather, but they are giving it their best shot and I’m proud of them.”

However, the growth of the business had a lot to do with more than just Munden. Customers come from as far north as Byron, as far west as Courtland, as far south as Linn and as far east as Haddam.

They have been especially encouraged by the considerable patronage and encouragement from the communities of Belleville and Scandia.

“The nice thing about the Garden Mart is that it helps the area; it gives us something to do and it helps us meet the people in the area,” Gary says.

“Last year was our first year and we met some really good people. We have been privileged.”

When asked about advice for cultivating a beautiful home, Barb and Gary gave advice that is pertinent to more than just grounds and garden. Beauty and renewal don’t have to be all or nothing.

“A rose garden starts with one rose,” Barb says. Gary points out that a few annuals can make a tremendous difference in the overall appearance of a property. It can start with five dollars and 30 minutes of attention.