BEAVER FALLS (KDKA) – Independent, family-owned retail garden centers across Pennsylvania did not make Governor Tom Wolf’s list of “essential businesses.”

Local shops like Gumpf Gardens in Beaver Falls will soon enter their fifth week of closures, at the exact time when people are starting their gardens and looking for something to plant while stuck at home.

Meanwhile, shoppers pack into the garden centers at local big box stores deemed “essential,” like Home Depot and Lowe’s.

KDKA News recently interviewed an employee at one of those stores who said she understands the need to remain open for essential items, but said most people are coming in to buy tulips and mulch. She said the garden centers are packed and require extra employees, making it nearly impossible to employ proper social-distancing.

For this reason, local owner Jim Gumpf said he’s beyond frustrated doesn’t want to see his 63-year-old business struggle to survive for something he calls “unfair.”

“Our problem is that our project dies if we don’t take care of it,” said Gumpf.

He said he makes 70 percent of his yearly income during an 8-week span: the last 2 weeks in April, the month of May and the first 2 weeks of June.

“So not only are we not allowed to sell it, we have to spend money on labor and materials, water and fertilizer, just to keep it viable for someday when they finally say it’s okay [to open].”

His Beaver Falls parking lot now sits eerily empty, and his fruit trees and flowers are waiting in the greenhouse. Gumpf said he did apply for a waiver with the Governor’s office.

“Basically it just came back and said ‘denied’ and no reason, no anything, just denied.”

His loyal customers now face a tough decision, he said. To wait it out in support of his business, to venture to the competing big box stores, or to drive a few miles up the road and buy garden supplies in Ohio.

“We just cannot understand this when in effect our competition is being allowed to do it and we are not,” said Gumpf. “It just seems so unfair when we actually can do almost all of our customer interaction outdoors.”

Meghan Schiller