Stuart Cofer encounters frequent assertions that convince him that he went in the right direction of work a long time ago.
And as his family business – Cofer’s Home & Garden Showplace – celebrates its 100th anniversary in Athens, Cofer has reflected on the things that change and those that stay the same.
“You look around Athens and you see your plants in someone’s garden and I know they are my plants because we sell so many unusual and unique plants that I know are from us,” said Cofer, 62, who started working for his father when he was 10. “When you see these plants 25 or 30 years later, you get a good feeling knowing that you’ve helped beautify the Athens area and that the things you’re selling are helping to make the environment a beautiful place.”
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Founded in the fall of 1922 by Cofer’s grandfather, HL Cofer, on Lumpkin Street (just down from the Georgia Theater), the company grew from a downtown seed and feed store to one of the leaders in gardening and landscaping in the region.
Now located on Mitchell Bridge Road, Cofer’s also owned two Broad Street addresses (where Zombie Donuts and Cloud 9 Smoke and Vape Company now reside), had a store on Atlanta Highway, and for a few years in the 1950s and 1960s had an outpost. in downtown Gainesville.
Cofer is a family business in every sense of the word. Stuart Cofer is the third generation to lead the company (his father, Hal L. Cofer, and uncle, Donald Cofer, succeeded the founder) and once his son Stephen graduates from the University of Georgia, he will maintain the strong family chain.
“My son is the fourth generation of Cofers, and less than 4% of family businesses make it that far,” he said. “So it’s a pretty special offer.”
Now in his 43rd year in the family business, Stuart Cofer said he started working for his father for 25 cents an hour, “making boxes, cleaning, helping stock the shelves, taking things to the cars, watering the plants”. He left Athens for about five years, working in Los Angeles and Atlanta, but returned home permanently in 1988. He said his father and uncle were responsible for transitioning the business from the seed years and of animal feed.
“They made a lot of changes in the business,” he said, pointing out that at one point there was a Cofer’s downtown and a Cofer’s on the Atlanta freeway. “They sold pots and pans and we even had a pet department at one point, a lawn mower repair shop inside the store. They changed the store like Athens changed.
“When they started, Athens was still basically a farming community. As the university grew and Athens became more urbanized, the store changed with it. My grandfather wouldn’t recognize the store if he was walking in here today and I thank my dad and uncle Donald for the changes.
Stuart Cofer said his uncle ran the Atlanta Highway store and his father ran the downtown store until it closed in 1987.
“When we closed downtown in 1987, we were a full-fledged lawn and garden center,” he said. “As far as I know, we are the oldest family garden store in the state of Georgia.”
When asked what he thought of the interesting changes in the business he had worked in for decades, Stuart Cofer said that small gardens were infinitely more popular than large beds.
“The gardens got smaller and smaller over the years,” he said, adding that the store still had regular customers who traveled from Hartwell, Greensboro, Elberton and Gwinnett County. “We used to sell beans, peas and corn in one-pound packages and now we sell in quarter-pounds or less because people have smaller gardens.”
Stuart Cofer said he has no immediate retirement plans and added that he still enjoys the job.
“I’ll probably work here until I’m 70,” he said. “I love the job and we have great customers and great employees. So it’s always fun to work. As my son becomes more involved and educated in business, I will start to slow down.
“I won’t do like my dad, who was of the generation born during the Depression years and he was a workaholic, literally six days a week most of his life. I have complete confidence in the employees we have here and my son that they can run this business as well, if not better than me. Then I’ll back off and let those guys enjoy the party.
Cofer’s Home & Garden Showplace will host an open house March 25-27 and April 19 will feature a seminar featuring landscaping ideas, successful tomato cultivation, hydrangeas and other plants. For more event information, visit www.cofers.com.