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San Clemente Journal

Bob Carrick - Carrying on the Family Tradition

Nov 01, 2007 11:27AM ● By Don Kindred
by Anne Batty

Like father, like son, is an old adage that definitely applies to San Clementean Bob Carrick, owner of the Shore Gardens Nursery on Avenida Victoria. But in order to be true to this family’s tree, it should probably be rewritten to read … like grandfather, like father, like son.

This particular generational chain had its beginnings in 1940 when Carrick’s paternal grandfather, Oland, an engineer for the railroad in Decatur, Ill, rode a boiler through Orange County, CA. He was enamored with the beauty of the ocean on one side of the tracks and the rows of orange trees on the other, and like most who encounter the seaside village, when he came through San Clemente he knew it was the place where he wanted to retire.

Upon returning home, he packed up his family, moved to town, and began growing citrus trees - for which he won many awards at the Orange County Fair - and this retirement endeavor became the nucleus from which the family’s nursery business would eventually grow.

Bob’s father, Robert, grew up helping Bob’s grandfather cultivate and nurture those orange trees, learning the plant business from the ground up … so to speak. After working with his dad for many years and graduating from Cal Poly Pomona with a horticultural degree, in 1955 Robert decided he was ready to open his own nursery. He situated it on the corner of Avenida Victoria and So. Ola Vista, where the Italian Cravings Restaurant resides today. Then in 1959 he relocated the nursery across the street to make room for a parking lot needed by his in-laws’ pharmacy business.

“I started working in my dad’s nursery when I was about ten years old,” present owner Bob Carrick recalled. “I did it all, planting, potting, hauling, helping customers and selling. In those early days there were about five small nurseries in town. We’re the only small one left today. Wal Mart, Home Depot and Loews have definitely had an impact on this business.”

This business, that Bob has carried on since his father, Robert, retired in 1989, is the old-fashioned kind. That which caters to the customer, taking the time to help and explain, making sure patrons are well-informed about the care and kind of flora that will best fill their needs. 

“Our customers know that the plants they buy here are healthy, and unlikely to die,” Bob explained. “Being centrally located in town, we have many local clients, and although we do some work with landscapers, it is the loyalty of repeat business that keeps us going.”

The business acum and public service Bob practices in his garden shop come to him by example, not only from the paternal side of the family, but the maternal as well. In 1948 his mother’s family migrated to San Clemente from Los Angeles and opened Taylor’s Pharmacy on the corner of So. Ola Vista and Avenida Del Mar. His maternal grandfather and grandmother, Walter and Cynthia Taylor, ran the business until their retirement when their son Bill took over. In those early days, Bob’s mother, Dolly (Taylor) Carrick, worked the soda fountain at the Pharmacy. Bob’s Uncle, Fred Gunning, who just turned 100 years old, owned and operated Fred’s Liquor Store across the street from the Shore Gardens until he too was ready for retirement. And not to be forgotten, his paternal grandmother, Mary Carrick, became the first City Councilwoman to serve the town. For the Carrick/Taylor’s, business has always been synonymous with family.

But as Bob Carrick tells it … when he graduated high school, he wasn’t ready to join the ranks of family businessmen/women. He decided to go to San Diego State to study photography instead. Then after college, upon returning to town and needing work, he decided rejoining the family profession was the right thing to do.

In order to expand his knowledge of the gardening trade, Carrick took several extra-curricular horticulture classes at Saddleback Community College, but confesses “hands on” knowledge has been his best teacher. And for a surfer and motorcyclist like himself, there is nothing like having a job where you can be outdoors daily – “that’s when it’s not raining,” Bob added grinning. 

Carrick went on to say that the busiest and most profitable times at Shore Gardens are spring, when everyone wants to spruce up their landscape, and the Christmas season with the sale of trees, wreaths, boughs, pine cones and poinsettias. 

“We have been selling Christmas foliage for over 40 years,” Bob explained proudly. “Our regular customers tell us they wouldn’t think of buying their seasonal decorations anywhere else.”
There was a time a few years back when Shore Gardens sold specially flocked trees, but with the passage of time and changes in décor, that service has become passé. The nursery still offers its tree delivery service, however, charging $10 for local delivery and $15-$20 for servicing outlying areas.

“Patrons want the freshest tree they can find,” Bob remarked. “While the flocking process was hard, dirty work, it did help retain the tree’s freshness. But because the city would not pick up the flocked trees, and the asbestos scare (which was untrue about flocking materials) was rampant, I decided it was best to discontinue that service.”

During the major part of the year, Shore Gardens Nursery employs three full-time workers, Quinn Bork, with Carrick for six years, Jarek Hawksley, four years and David Perez, two years. Both he and his customers appreciate the longevity and knowledge these employees bring to the table.

“My employees are so knowledgeable that I sometimes think our customers would rather talk to them than to me,” Bob joked. “I expect all three of these young men might even stay in the business, possibly taking over when I retire.”

Having lived in San Clemente since he was very young, Carrick has seen and experienced many changes. He remembers a time when there were no houses on the hills east of the freeway and just a few scattered along the shore. And particularly reminisces a time when there were few surfers in the water and motorcycles were free to motor and climb the local hillsides.

Bob and his wife Lori - a valley girl by way of New York - met on a blind date, and have been married 22 years. They are the proud parents of two daughters Natalie, 21, and Monica, 18. So far, neither girl has aspirations to join the family business. Presently attending Saddleback College, Natalie is also employed at Ralph’s on Camino de los Mares, where she was recently chosen to receive the Commercial Service Award from among over 20,000 employees. Monica, is also attending Saddleback, but has recently been accepted into Point Loma University for Environmental Studies. She works part-time at Kaylani Coffee at the north end of town. 

Bob Carrick comes from a long line of entrepreneurs who have been living in and establishing businesses in town for generations. And if Webster’s definition of “local” (pertaining to or belonging to a place) is correct, they have proven themselves to be about as local as one can ever hope to get.
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