Rockingham Acres Garden Center has always
been a family affair, but now the future has arrived.
By CAROL ROBIDOUX
Union Leader Correspondent
DERRY — Most years, by the time October’s leaf-clutching winds pick the trees clean, Bill and Jean Smith are packed and ready to head south for the winter. And while this year is no exception, they will not be locking up at Rockingham Acres before they leave town.
They’ve passed the torch — along with a few shovels and pitchforks — to their youngest kids, Will, 27, and Alyssa, 23, who cut their teeth on the family garden center business. Now, they’re ready to flex their business savvy muscles, applying echnology, social networking and some fresh ideas to the business that, for more than 25 years, sustained their family.
“My parents have put a lot of hard work into building this place,” said Will Smith, who Saturday was a moving target, pulling together an indoor market fest inside the greenhouse for the past few weeks, testing the waters for what is about to launch.
“Next weekend is going to be the official kick off of our Market and Holiday Craft Fest. We hope to have it every weekend through Dec. 12,” said Smith, who is still fine-tuning some of the details.
For now, he’s lined up several local vendors representing a variety of businesses and crafters, to set up tables of their wares. There will be live music and a calendar of kid-friendly activities leading into the pre-Christmas push, which will include wreaths and Christmas trees. He and his sister are taking a business that’s been a fixture in the community and applying their fingerprints liberally, as they consider expansion options.
Think American Gothic 2.0.
“My thinking was that people are looking for that authentic New England fall experience, and yet there really aren’t a lot of options around. I think 2001 was our last official Christmas here, and so my sister and I are hoping to bring that back — but with some new ideas,” said Smith.
His urge is to keep things down to earth and local, continuing the momentum that has already begun with the Downtown Farmers Market. He’s not worried that his twoday craft fest on Oct. 23 and 24 coincides with Pinkerton Academy’s annual craft fair.
“As I stand outside and watch the traffic pass by our store, it makes me think that what we’re really competing for is people’s time — everyone is so busy these days, it’s hard for them to take the time to pull off the road for any reason,” Smith said.
He also isn’t worried about competing with the downtown market, once it reopens Nov. 7 at an indoor location.
“We had a great experience there, and I think we’ll be back next year, maybe doing more hands-on type demonstrations for the public,” Smith said. “As for competing, I think it’s actually going to help us all to be doing this on the weekends — people can plan their day around hitting all the craft and market fairs.”
His dad said he couldn’t be happier about the prospect of heading south for the winter, and returning to see what his kids have come up with for the future of the family business.
“It’s really refreshing, to see the kids develop their talents here. My favorite part is seeing new ways of doing things and better ways to do the same things we’ve always done,” said Bill Smith.
“That’s my favorite part. The hardest part is letting go. In getting to where we are today, we failed in a lot of areas along the way. Sometimes things didn’t pan out for us, and you learn that you just have to keep moving. Yesterday’s laurels are today’s compost, so you can’t sit on them,” said Bill Smith.
He said he started the business in the early ‘80s, fresh out of landscape school. He had an opportunity to open a shop in Derry, so he left his home in Springfield, Mass., — and the girl next door — to seek his fortune.
“We were neighbors, Jean and I. She was really excited for me. She encouraged me to come up north and do this, but I didn’t last a year without her. I proposed, and she came up and joined me. We built this business from nothing — and that was in the 1980s, another tough economic cycle. But we were blessed with the ability to service our debt and raise our family and succeed. I have no doubt God set us up — it was all his design,” Bill Smith said.
On Saturday he was doing what he could to support his children’s efforts, staking some colorful wind catchers into the ground to help attract some business from the highway while his daughter, dressed in a wolf mascot suit on loan from a family friend, danced and waved at cars. His son was in the store room, looking for paper coffee cups to serve up pumpkin spice coffee that had just finished percolating.
“I worked here for my parents from the time I was about 12 until I was 21. Then I left for a while. I needed to see the world for myself, but now I’m back — the timing just seemed right, to see if we could do something a little different here,” said Will Smith.
He is taking his time, tweaking the new website, www. rockinghamacres.com, and fielding ideas from customers and Facebook fans. It is all at once exciting and overwhelming, but he is up for the challenge.
“My parents have worked hard here their whole lives — I’d like to keep it going for them this winter,” he said. “I have a lot of ideas for this place. This is a new chapter, for sure.”
Rockingham Acres Market & Holiday Craft Fest runs 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. this weekend and will continue through Dec. 12. Vendor inquiries are welcome. Call 434-2817.