A beloved Forest Acres garden store that was in danger of shutting down or moving after the October flood is now there to stay, its owner says, after the landlord bank agreed this month to sell him the property.
Joseph McDougall’s 12-year-old Forest Lake Gardens, a quirky produce and garden business situated near the corner of Trenholm Road and Forest Drive, drew reams of community support after First Citizens Bank told McDougall in October that his lease for the property would not be renewed. An online petition to “Save Forest Lake Gardens” garnered more than 1,500 digital signatures.
“I don’t want to downplay how it made me feel when all those people stood up at one time,” McDougall said. “But I feel it every day. ... In the back of my mind, that keeps me going.”
The outdoor store lost a great deal of inventory when floodwaters from nearby Gills Creek and Eightmile Branch gushed into the low-lying area Oct. 4.
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But McDougall moved quickly to reopen about a week and half later, his signature Big Foot garden statues once again adorning the Trenholm Road curb where, beside them, the former Webb Rawls Gallery frame shop sat gutted and muddied from the flood.
Forest Acres resident Abigail Hunter stopped by Forest Lake Gardens on Wednesday because she knew she would find a good quality product there, she said.
“It’s good that he got to buy the place and stay open,” Hunter said.
Hunter, who moved to Forest Acres only about a year ago, remembers that McDougall’s store carries delicious produce in the summertime – and she’s glad he’ll be around to sell it again this year.
After a month or two of negotiating with First Citizens, McDougall said he recently finalized the purchase of the garden store’s property and the former frame shop building, which the bank also owned, for about $25,000. The land and structures are valued at more than $300,000 for tax purposes, according to Richland County records.
“We understand the importance of small businesses in our communities,” said Angela English, a Columbia spokeswoman for First Citizens. “We know Forest Lake Gardens is an important business in the Forest Acres community. We determined that selling the property to Mr. McDougall was the right thing to do.”
The feeling of having control over Forest Lake Gardens’ destiny now is one that McDougall says he has never had as a business owner.
“I think it’s a unique opportunity for a small community to have a place like mine that can’t really afford the rent (elsewhere),” he said. “Every now and then, places like mine get to stay, and it’s just got to be a community effort.”
Now that he has been given the opportunity to continue his business in the community that has supported him, McDougall is looking at it as a chance to possibly make changes for the better – what they might be, though, he doesn’t know yet.
“It’s very difficult to change things when they’re working, even if we’re supposed to,” McDougall said. “When you get completely flooded out and you’re starting from scratch, it’s like this is the chance I have to look at other people’s ideas.”
Reach Ellis at (803) 771-8307.