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Stein Gardens and Gifts to operate retail store at Hawks in Wauwatosa

Hawks landscaping and construction services will continue

Feb. 12, 2013

Hawks Nursery's retail operation will soon be replaced by Stein Gardens and Gifts at the Hawks location, 12217 Watertown Plank Road. Hawks will continue to offer, and plans to expand, its landscape design, construction and maintenance business, also at the Watertown Plank location, Hawks owner Joe Kresl said this week.

The Plan Commission approved the fairly straight-forward request for a conditional use permit for the arrangement this week, following a rocky hearing that exposed neighbors' complaints about Hawks' operation.

A business opportunity

Kresl said the arrangement with Stein poses a number of advantages.

"We wanted to grow, and this is a great opportunity for us to grow and service more people," Kresl said. "This is a business move, to expand our business."

Hawks sales agents will work at special kiosks at 11 Stein locations in the Milwaukee area, expanding Hawks' reach, Kresl and Mark Birmingham, president of Stein, said.

"Currently Stein only offers their customers plant material that they can put in the truck and carry home with them," Kresl said. "So we're going to be offering Stein's customers design and installation services."

Kresl said an even bigger benefit was Stein's buying power, as perhaps the largest garden center business in the Midwest.

"We will be taking advantage of that buying power. Stein's will be sourcing all of our plant material."

This lowers costs to Hawks, and the savings will be passed on to customers, he said.

The lower costs will vary by plant, but he said "it could be 15 to 20, 30 percent. Some of the changes are significant."

The businesses, which have long had in common many of the their sources of plant material, will keep two separate inventories, he said.

Birmingham said Stein wasn't purchasing Hawks' retail business, but rather Hawks was closing the business. Stein will open a new retail center in space it will lease from Hawks, which will continue to own the property.

Hawks Garden Center is currently having a storewide clearance sale that will continue until it closes the business Sunday. Stein Gardens and Gifts will open in the same location in early April pending final approval from the City of Wauwatosa.

"We'd like to retain as many people of Hawks as possible (in the Stein retail center)," he said.

Stein employment varies. At peak season, there are about 1200 Stein employees spread across its 15 stores, an average of 80 per store, Birmingham said.

Stein stores are all privately owned by the founding Stein family, Birmingham said.

Hawks and Stein are "two independently owned companies, I want to make that real clear … but we are working together, we're joining in a joint marketing program," Kresl said.

Stein Gardens and Gifts was founded in 1946. Hawks Landscape opened its doors in 1875.

Neighbors' complaints

Alderwoman Cheryl Berdan, who represents the neighborhood near Hawks, noted that none of the problems mentioned by neighbors were directly related to the deal with Stein - except, possibly, if business and traffic increase - and she said she supported the plan.

Traffic congestion, employees parking on side streets, use of pesticides, clouds of debris and dust produced by shredding operations and heavy equipment and engine noises at early hours of the morning were among the problems cited by neighbors.

"We got a good/bad kind of situation," said David Ellsworth, who lives next door to Hawks on the west side. "The bad always can be worked out … but we've been in that location, this will be our third year, and the bad seems to be getting worse, as opposed to be getting better."

Ellsworth said that he appreciates the Christmas decorations and flowers and plants at Hawks that are visible from his property, but he expressed a number of issues.

"We've got some environmental concerns," he said. "We're concerned about the increasing use of pesticides and herbicides ... in the heavily populated residential neighborhood."

He noted that unlike the Stein store proposed for the Hawks location, other Stein stores are in more business-oriented locations, and he questioned Hawks' sense of responsibility to its neighbors.

"They have some shredding equipment on the border right with our lot, and during the dry times of the year, we have huge clouds of dusty shredded material drifting ground level to the air over our adjacent yards. The clouds of debris have been traveling as far as 124th Street, which is four houses down," he said.

He also said the machinery used by Hawks has gotten louder over the years. Large leaf blowers, delivery trucks, walkie-talkie and loudspeaker intercoms, larger vehicles and the beeps of machines backing up are among the noises he cited.

Work starts before 7 a.m. and goes late into the evening, he said.

"What can be done with that, to be better neighbors?' he asked members of the Plan Commission.

Ellsworth's concerns were echoed by others.

Traffic and parking

Traffic and parking posed another set of issues.

Gordon Matz, who lives across the street from Hawks' main entrance, said he couldn't always get in and out of his driveway.

Cars coming and going from Hawks presents a challenge to leaving his driveway, and cars are sometimes parked so close he can't see when it's safe to back out, he said.

"I have had a case where I had the police over because I couldn't get out of my yard," he said. "They had parked in front of my driveway. When the parking is really bad there, I cannot back out of the driveway and see where the cars are coming from because all I see is cars."

Many complained about employees parking on their streets, especially the narrow north-south routes such as 120th through 124th streets. Some even said employees ate lunch in their cars and left wrappers on the street.

Ten residents spoke, expressing a greater or lesser level of concern.

Kresl said employees park in the parking lot except in peak seasons, when he asks them to park in the street.

"We have no intention to really change the way that we've parked in the past," he said. "We try to be responsible in the way that we do park. There is only a small period of time when we really need to park off-premises, when the peak of our season is."

He said the building and property were all in compliance with city codes, including the number of parking spaces, and he has employees put a flier explaining parking procedures in the windshield of cars parked too close to driveways, in front of mailboxes, and those not alternating on even and odd days, among other things. He urged residents to call the police to ticket employees parked illegally.

Commissioner Michael Goetz, noting the size of Hawks' property, asked Kresl if it might be possible to create a parking lot for employees somewhere on the land, but Kresl said all of the property is in use.

Stearns proposed a delay in approval, but Kresl said that would pose a hardship with the spring season coming up.

He said he would try to address the dust and debris problem, perhaps by watering the dry soil, and would enforce the 7 a.m. start time.

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