Safer shopping for home improvement

(First published in the April 9, 2020 issue of City Pages)

During this coronavirus lockdown, many folks are turning to house and garden projects. Maybe too many.


Taking advantage of more time on their hands and nowhere to go, a lot of people seem to be thinking now is a good time to tackle home improvement projects. The packed parking lots at places like Menards are a testament to that. These kinds of stores have become so packed that some are limiting how many people can be inside at any given time.

But are home improvement and gardening projects “essential” in terms of the statewide Safer At Home order in effect through April 24?

It depends who you ask. According to the Marathon County Health Department, the distinction is pretty simple. “Projects that would require you to purchase new items — such as painting rooms, redecorating your living room, and so on — are not essential to your health and well-being,” according to a post on the Marathon County Health Department’s Facebook page.

The agency, at the frontlines of the coronavirus pandemic, suggested instead tasks that don’t require a trip to a store, such as organizing closets, cleaning out the garage or doing yard work.

The county’s Coronavirus Public Information Officer Judy Burrows offered the following suggestions:

•   Shop online, and use store pick up and delivery options

•   Limit trips to essential purchases, and if you do go inside a store, make a list to ensure you’re in an out as soon as possible

•   If you must shop, wear a cloth mask, touch only what you need to, and wash your hands before and after you shop. Practice social distancing by staying at least six feet away from other customers.

Those kinds of warnings haven’t stopped people from flocking to home improvement stores— or even treating a shopping errand as a family outing. Many home improvement stores in response have placed restrictions on who can be in the store, and when (see sidebar).

     Though greenhouses and garden centers are allowed to be open as essential agriculture related operations, many are choosing to postpone their opening this spring, and/or restrict in-person customer shopping.

     This year also has been a highly unusual season, certainly nothing like Kent Spiegel has ever seen. He has been in the business for 46 years and currently runs the Rib Mountain Greenhouse on Hwy. N. It’s a challenge for the owner, who is used to working closely with customers.

The greenhouse opens officially May 1, but “open” could be very different this year. Spiegel anticipates that no customers will be allowed inside the greenhouse itself. Rib Mountain Greenhouse now is taking orders over the phone and online, and Spiegel has been contacting regular customers to find out if they want the same plants as last year or what garden changes they will make this year. That way, staff can prepare orders that customers can pick up outside.

People already have been stopping at Rib Mountain Greenhouse to peek in, asking to take a look around. But Spiegel is pretty clear: They can look through the windows only. “We want everyone safe and healthy,” Spiegel says.

Spiegel encourages everyone to call ahead. Staff are happy to speak with new customers about what they can plant, how to go about it, and to set up an order.

Micki and Cris Luebbe at Down to Earth Greenhouse, on N. 52nd Avenue in Wausau, are starting bare roots sales this week, with delivery to start next week. They plan to open shop on May 1. However, the greenhouse will limit numbers to 50 shoppers at a time  (no one under the age of 12, no pets, two people per family). “We will be working to protect our employees and customers, so we are hoping that many will take advantage of the delivery and carry out options,” Micki Luebbe says. He’s also asking customers to bring gloves and masks with them to the shop.

In this part of the state, gardeners typically begin outdoor plantings in mid-May. In the meantime, there are plenty of things to do now, that don’t require a trip to a greenhouse:

Experienced gardeners can start raking and preparing garden beds for the season, Spiegel says. Thatching lawns, fertilizing, and laying down some lime are all good early-season projects in April. Cleaning up old sticks and debris is also a good prep activity. “Any time you can get outside to get a scratch in the ground, take advantage of it,” Spiegel says.

For new gardeners, Spiegel says many websites have great information about how to start gardens. And staff at the greenhouse are more than happy help (over the phone). The first principal is to keep it simple. Container gardens can be a good way to start. Many people are surprised to learn they can grow plants such as radishes in window boxes. “Your options are wide open,” Spiegel says.

Home improvement store updates

Menards: 2801 Stewart Ave., Wausau. Open Mon.–Sat. 6 am to 8 pm, and Sunday 6 am to 7 pm. No children under the age of 16 allowed in the store, and no pets.

Home Depot: 2705 Sherman Ave., Wausau. All stores now closed at 6 pm, while opening hours remain unchanged. For Wausau’s store, that’s 6 am Mon.–Sat. and 8 am Sunday. The number of people who can be in the store at any given time can be limited, and major spring promotions have been eliminated to reduce traffic.

Ace Hardware: 2606 Schofield Ave, Weston. Open relatively normal hours, Mon.-Fri. 7 am to 7 pm, Saturday 7 am to 6 pm, and Sunday  8 am to 5 pm. According to Ace’s website, customers can order online and staff will bring the pickup order to the customer’s car.

Fleet Farm: 1811 Badger Ave., Wausau.  Retail store hours have been adjusted. Now open Mon.–Sat. 7 am to 8 pm, and Sundays 8 am to 6 pm. Closed Easter Sunday, April 12. Fleet Farm’s Garden Center is opening Friday, April 17.

Local greenhouse updates

Here’s a list of some local greenhouses and their new hours and procedures. Some are waiting to see if the Safer at Home order is still in effect by the time the season starts, so call ahead since things could change after press time:

Rib Mountain Greenhouse: 149521 Hwy. N, Wausau. Can call ahead now to place orders. Officially opens shop May 1. 715-359-8088

Leid’s Greenhouse and Garden Center: 1010 E. Hwy. A, Athens. Opening April 18. 715-721-0547.

Down to Earth Greenhouse: 6104 N. 52nd Ave, Wausau. Opens May 1, plans to only allow 50 shoppers at time via appointment. Will also offer delivery and carryout options. 715-675-2705

Garden Path Greenhouses: 145760 Greenhouse Rd., Wausau. Plans to open on May 1, and is preparing to limit customers and take phone orders for pickup. 715-845-2476

Hsu Growing Supply: 237502 Hwy. W, Wausau. Open for curbside pickup. Customers can call in their order, pre-pay with a credit card and then pick up. 715-675-5856

Majestic Farms Greenhouse: 172309 Boundary Rd, Hatley. Call to schedule an appointment. 715-446-3873