Everything’s blooming at West Harlem Supply
Charlie Rice, owner of West Harlem Supply in River Grove stands outside of his business where he has hundreds of flowers available for purchase. He's been in business 40 years selling lawn and garden supplies./Photo by David Pollard Sun-Times Media
West Harlem Supply
8025 Grand Ave., River Grove, IL 60171
(between Webster St & Haymond Ave)
Updated: August 6, 2012 6:07AM
Surrounded by the big-box home improvement stores, a local businessman is still seeing things bloom.
West Harlem Supply, 8025 Grand Ave., River Grove, has been selling lawn and garden supplies for 42 years. Outside, the lot is filled with plants and flowers ready to go in the ground, and inside, besides the tools and supplies, there are lawn decorations including birdbaths, clay pots and a variety of statues.
Owner Charlie Rice, 75, said his opportunity to pursue the greener things in life came about by accident.
“I was in the plumbing, heating and supply business and had the building next door,” he said. “The landlord raised the rent so I moved here.”
“With a greenhouse in the back everything (I use to use and sell) rusts,” he said.
He said the economy at the time wasn’t helping his plumbing, heating and supply business so he decided to use the building for what it was built for.
“There wasn’t much to move around so I moved in the flowers,” he said.
He said he drew upon his experience raising plants and vegetables in the family garden while he was growing up to help him keep the business open. He said it hasn’t been easy because of the convenience for customers to go to one of the big box home improvement stores in the area.
“Everything is more accessible to the general public,” he said. “Some people say I have better merchandise. If it wasn’t for the faithful customers and people walking in, I wouldn’t make it.”
Despite the competition and high taxes that Rice believes is hurting small businesses, his store stays busy.
A hunting partner came in to buy tomato plants. Another customer came from Park Ridge to buy a large hanging flower pot with flowers bursting over the edge of it in full bloom. She said her husband drove by the place and told her they had nice things.
She said she would come back for another plant, and Rice quickly rang up her purchase on the cash register.
He said that’s what keeps him out of the rocking chair.
“Being your own boss is the one thing that I enjoy,” he said. “I enjoy the customers more than anything and keeping the customers happy.”