Journalism / New Haven Register

Pinchbeck’s will soon pick its last rose

Thorny overseas competition closes Guilford farm

By Rachael Scarborough King, Register Staff
June 7, 2008

GUILFORD — Pinchbeck Roses, one of the area’s most celebrated family farms, will cease most of its operations at the end of the month, owner Tom Pinchbeck said Friday.

The Boston Post Road business, which mainly sells cut roses wholesale to florists and other flower retailers, has been a Guilford landmark for nearly 80 years. It fell victim to overseas competition.

Pinchbeck’s great-grandfather opened the first greenhouse at the site in 1929.

Pinchbeck said he will close the wholesale operation after June 28, but hopes to continue selling flowers out of the store’s cash-and-carry area through summer. He intends to keep the Christmas tree farm open this winter, but does not have immediate plans for the 38-acre property.

Competition from the overseas rose market has been pressing for the past decade, Pinchbeck said, leading to the decision to close.

“It’s been a long struggle with fighting against imported roses and it’s just become impossible to compete,” he said, noting that many roses come from Colombia and Ecuador. “Our labor cost is our highest input cost, and it’s just impossible to keep up with it.”

The business has about 30 full- and part-time employees, as well as 150,000 square feet of greenhouse space. Pinchbeck said he has no immediate plans to sell the land, adding that he hopes it will remain as an agricultural property.

“The tricky part is the value of the land is pretty high because we’re right on Route 1,” he said. “If you’re going to sell it, a farmer is probably not going to be able to afford to pay the price that you could get for it.”

He added that it is possible he will lease the land to another farmer.

Town officials expressed sadness Friday over the impending closing. Along with Bishop’s Orchards and Fonicello’s Garden Center, Pinchbeck Roses has been one of the main agricultural interests in town.

Fonicello’s closed in early 2007, and the Fonicello family recently sold a 9-acre piece of land on Long Hill Road for a possible office development.

First Selectman Carl Balestracci called the news that Pinchbeck will close “very, very troubling.”

“It’s just so sad that we lose a business like this. The Pinchbeck family and the Pinchbeck business has been a part of Guilford life for three generations,” he said. “It’s certainly one of the older businesses that we have in Guilford, but it’s also one of the very last agricultural enterprises that exist in the town that 50 years ago had 100 working farms.”

Balestracci added that state and federal agencies should do more to help businesses that are struggling against overseas competition.

Keith Bishop, co-owner of Bishop’s Orchards, said he learned of Pinchbeck’s decision to close when the company informed buyers. Bishop’s buys flowers from Pinchbeck to sell at its farm market, also on Boston Post Road.

“I was shocked,” Bishop said, adding, “I fully understand the pressures of where they’re analyzing the economic side of maintaining their business in a very competitive industry.”

Bishop said his company’s ability to diversify, offering more retail products at the market, has allowed it to stay in business. When asked if Guilford residents should worry that Bishop’s could also close, he replied, “Absolutely not.”

“Since we’re in the retail business, that makes it easier for us to incorporate other people’s products to help support the farming side of it,” he said. “If we were strictly a wholesale operation … then the Bishop farm would probably have been gone years ago as well.”

As chairman of the Guilford Agricultural Commission — which was the first in the state when it formed in 2006 — Pinchbeck has been a strong advocate of maintaining town farms.

“When I got into this business — in ’91, I came back and started working full time — there were a dozen rose growers in New England and New York State, and we’ve been the last one for a few years now,” he said. “It is a shame, but on the other hand it’s pretty amazing that we stayed around for as long as we did, so you have to sort of look at the positive side.”

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