'Such a shock that it's closing': Knupper Nursery closing after 88 years
Knupper Nursery & Landscape owners John and Sue Heaton have been to every continent in their travels, including Antarctica.
"Antarctica is blue and purple and white and gray. You see nothing green. I'm a green person," Sue Heaton said.
She's been a green person since the mid-1980s, when she married John, who has owned Knupper's for 50 years.
John Heaton's five-decade run, and Knupper's 88 years as a mainstay for Northwest suburban green thumbs and landscapers, comes to an end June 16 when the couple close the longtime family business located in Palatine.
The closing comes with Napleton's Automotive Group's purchase of Knupper's Rand Road property, which, along with the former Menard's site next door, will become part of a Subaru and Mazda dealership.
"We quickly made the decision to sell the property and move on to the next phase of our lives," John Heaton said.
The sale of the garden center and plant nursery occurred just as fast as its purchase. John Heaton bought Knupper after the death of his former father-in-law, original owner Richard Knupper.
"I thought about it for three minutes and said, 'Yeah, I'll come running,'" he said.
The sudden closing of Knupper has come as a surprise to customers.
"I've been coming here ever since I was a little kid," Mount Prospect resident Kathy Fredin said. "It's such a shock that it's closing."
Several events have come to define Knupper's existence as a landmark garden center in the area. Sue Heaton said the business's early adoption of computers was one.
She began training employees on computer software in the mid-1980s. At the time, few family-owned businesses used computers. "We got that under control before it needed to be under control," she said.
Then a fire burned down the entire business in 1990, when it sat on the neighboring Menard's land and grew its own produce. A decision to sell the farm where their products grew in Kingston, Illinois, ultimately became instrumental in Knupper's success.
Revenue from the sale allowed the Heatons to upgrade Knupper's retail space and product range.
"It forced us to update the business to what it should be so that we could go on to the next level," John Heaton said.
A close relationship with the community has persisted despite changes.
John Heaton fondly remembers a moment the day after the fire. Because it occurred near Christmas, Knupper's annual holiday tree sales were affected. In a small gazebo left untouched by the fire, the Heatons found a small note with $10 attached.
"The note said that they had come to buy a Christmas tree but had seen what happened," John Heaton said. "They still wanted to pay for a Christmas tree to stay loyal."
A close relationship between the Heatons and their staff also allowed for the continued success of the business. Sue Heaton said she will miss her staff the most.
The expertise of the Knupper staff has been noticed by both customers and competing business.
"The staff is very helpful. They know their stuff," said Buffalo Grove resident Robert Panelle, a customer for more than 20 years.
The Heatons worried about the closing's impact on their employees, but local competitors have expressed interest in hiring them.
"I've always had an appreciation for the extremely high-quality staff, but the other (nursery) owners in the area noticed that, too," John Heaton said. "The staff here have multiple offers from garden centers so they can continue on."
Before closing, the Heatons expect to sell much of their merchandise. They'll donate any leftover plant material to charities like Little Sisters of the Poor, Habitat for Humanity or local schools.
After another spring in which they often work 12 to 14 hours a day, seven days a week, John, 81, and Sue, 68, are looking forward to a retirement in their North Barrington home. They'll continue to play tennis and work out in Palatine to stay connected to the community they've grown close to, but they also plan to travel more frequently -- although to greener destinations than Antarctica.
"I'll miss all of those relationships that we've had," John Heaton said. "We'll be around."