Laurel Bay Gardens quietly exchanges ownership

Laurel Bay Gardens, north of Florence at 88493 Highway 101 recently changed ownership when, in August 2022, Julie Gunnell purchased the garden center from its founders, Lisa Walter-Sedlacek and David Sedlacek. Photo by Jean Lee/Siuslaw News

April 7, 2023 — Laurel Bay Gardens is the biggest garden center in Florence within a 30-mile radius. For plant lovers, that makes it a treasured gem of the Oregon Coast. Many people in the community may not have noticed that it’s come under new ownership.

Our area enjoys abundant rainfall and temperate climates, making it the ideal location for plant cultivation.

Plants and the plant business have been pivotal to the State of Oregon and its history. According to the Oregon Association of Nurseries, the demand for plants skyrocketed post-World War II.

By 1970, Oregon was 6th nationally for nursery sales and by 1980, Oregon was the third largest producer in the country, becoming a half-a-billion-dollar industry by 1997.

Unfortunately, the unprecedented growth couldn’t continue forever. During the Great Recession of 2008, Oregon’s nursery industry experienced a decline in year-to-year sales for the first time ever (according to figures released by the U.S. Department of Agriculture).

That, in combination with unusually cold and wet weather, dramatically affected the nurseries. By 2011, nursery owners were still experiencing trouble getting banks to approve loans or extend lines of credit. Many faced bankruptcy and had to make the difficult decision to cut their losses and close. Others slogged along in hopes the economy would recover.

Fortunately today, the nursery business once again consistently ranks in the top two for Oregon agricultural commodities. Nationally, the USDA Census of Horticultural Specialties puts Oregon in the top three for horticultural production.

While the recent COVID-19 pandemic battered businesses in the retail and restaurant industries, the nursery business exploded. People stuck at home looked for new hobbies and interests to fill their time. Without a doubt, plants were one of them.

Needless to say, it’s serious business in Oregon and brings money from other states to our economy. Despite all these encouraging statistics, many small competitors have fallen to the wayside in favor of big box stores over the last several decades.

Regardless of these tough conditions, Laurel Bay continues to be a valuable plant outlet in our local community. It started when Lisa Walter-Sedlacek and David Sedlacek began a home business in 1988. Eventually, it led to their purchase, in 2004, of the property where Laurel Bay Gardens currently operates today.

In August of 2022, after decades of running the business successfully, even through recessions and a pandemic, Laurel Bay quietly exchanged ownership.

Humble and reserved, Julie Gunnell forgoed announcing the takeover, preferring to get involved in the community organically through garden clubs and other events.

Gunnell lived in Oregon as a child while her father worked at the University of Oregon. Later, the bulk of her professional career was in the yearbook printing business. She found the process “fascinating and fulfilling to see the excitement and joy it brought to so many [people].”

Her dreams of working for herself led her back to Oregon’s coast where she says the reason she chose the nursery business “is the beauty of it and the happiness that it brings to people.”

With Gunnell’s passion for bringing positivity to others, Laurel Bay seems to be in good hands. Despite her unassuming energy, her team can’t stop singing her praises.

“I think Julie’s great. She’s a really great boss,” boasts Robyn, one of her employees.

Another employee, Danny, is quick to agree, “She’s awesome, she’s a wonderful lady to work for…this place is changing every day. We’re trying to do something new.”

Gunnell’s quiet demeanor is balanced by her Nursery Manager, Raul Alarcon. Outgoing and chatty, Alarcon is an arborist with over 30 years of professional experience in gardening and plant production.

The biggest challenge he’s run into was the missed window to pre-book last season’s plants for this year. However, he expects his stock to increase dramatically when new crops are released in mid-April. 

“Bear with us, plants are going to roll in regularly. Look for us in April and May and we will be fully stocked,” says the manager.

Laurel Bay is more than your basic garden center. Its indoor retail space is continually stocked with houseplants and unique decor. The team is knowledgeable and eager to help visitors with everything from fertilizer to plant care.

What the former owners, Walter-Sedlacek and Sedlacek, started decades ago as a home business, carries on today with the same passion and care a successful nursery requires. Laurel Bay has outlasted many of its competitors and has exciting new changes coming under the new ownership.

“I’d like to add some fun and educational classes in pruning, terrarium and basket planting…I’d also like to [provide] educational opportunities for young people that would spark their interest and lead to a lifelong love of gardening,” Gunnell says about the future.

Laurel Bay is located at 88493 Highway 101 North. Call them at 541-997-5973.