ST ALBANS CITY-- If it grows, she knows: local Marilyn Pelletier is celebrating her 20th anniversary this year as the owner and garden extraordinaire of Breezy Acres Garden Center and Primitive Barn.
“I would love to make people happy everyday,” Pelletier said smiling. “When people come into the greenhouses in the spring and their mouths drop to the floor because everything is so beautiful, that makes me happy and proud. When they come in here and they just look at all the stuff in the barn, it makes me happy that they love it.”
Her flowers, fruits bushes, crops and apple trees are renowned, and in the warm season travelers down route 105 will find a big yellow storefront surrounded by fantastical array of brightly-colored flowers, massive boxes of petunias, an expansive garden of giant perennials out back and a greenhouse stocked with thousands of vegetable plants, annuals and hanging baskets overflowing with spectacular blooms.
In the winter, the freshest wreaths, kissing balls and evergreen trees fill the air with the familiar and cozy smell of the holiday season, and that’s before customers even enter the Primitive Barn, a place transformed into a wonderland where Santa himself would be right at home.
Though it was her skilled knowledge of soils, plants, vegetables and flowers that eventually led to an accomplished business, Pelletier didn’t always know that she wanted to be the the Ceres of Franklin County.
“I was working a computer desk job, doing data entry,” Pelletier said smiling. “I was waitressing when I got out of school, I worked at Hamlen’s garden center, I worked at a landscaping firm down in Waitsfield, but I wanted something more permanent. I didn’t really know what I wanted to do with that degree.”
For some job security and a paycheck, Pelletier took a desk job for two years, but the hands-on Pelletier simply wasn’t content staring at a screen all day.
“It was just torture, because I can’t sit,” Pelletier said. “I’m a mover. And a shaker. And I don’t stop.”
One fateful day, Pelletier and her then-boyfriend were driving down Sheldon Road when they noticed that the small garden stand and greenhouse on the side of the road was posted for sale.
And the rest, as they say, is history.
Growing a business
“It was a little lean-to building, flat on one side with an arbor on the front where you could hang baskets from,” Pelletier recalled. “The barn was here too, but it was being used to store pallets of soil. There was nothing in there...It took me almost a year to get all of the paperwork, all of the loans to go through.”
But her hard work and diligence paid off, and in December of 2002 Pelletier finally had her own private Idaho, and for less than $200,000 Breezy Acres was born.
“I didn’t have any equity at the time,” Pelletier said. “I was going on my word that I was a hard worker and that I was going to make this happen. And I was coming in blind...I had no business-owning experience.”
Pelletier originally got a degree in Plant and Soil Sciences from the University of Vermont, so when it came to growing and cultivating her inventory she was set.
Attracting customers to her small start-up, on the other hand, was a challenge.
“For the first three or four years I could sit here and read a book,” Pelletier remembered. “Because I didn’t have the customer base at that time. It was crazy. And now, I barely have time to eat lunch!”
Survival, the Pelletier way
“Well you get your line of credit when you’re a small business, so you’re living on credit cards and then trying to pay them off,” Pelletier said. "And for the first couple of years, I actually got a job at Bayside waitressing--I would close here at five and then I would go down there and work until closing for a couple days a week just to make ends meet. And then you’re here, seven days a week, waiting for people to come.”
Pelletier said she advertised with three publications every week to garner attention to her business and flew every sign and flag she could get her hands on to get customers to stop.
“I only sold out of this front greenhouse for four or five years,” Pelletier said. “And then after that, we got a following. Then we just opened up the back house, and we filled it. And people started coming! And I love helping people put their gardens together, and teaching people, and seeing the things they create. The things that make them happy."
After ten years of success of her new business, Pelletier tore down her old structure and built the big, yellow house customers see today, because her company inventory kept busting at the seams.
Building the Primitive Barn
“It was just a barn, so we had to insulate it,” Pelletier said. “I had to actually make doors and replace all the windows, and put siding on....I wanted a country setting. A country feel. I used to love the Garden Patch downtown with its warmth and its country colors.”
Though it be July fall is on its way, and if you didn’t know before a stroll inside the Primitive Barn will make you think its already October: red and orange berry and flower wreaths shine out from the walls above romantic signs and mason-jar accessories, and the entire room smells of warm wood and soft caramel.
Towels, pictures, statues and flowers, the Primitive Barn has everything a decorator would need to give their event or personal holiday a cozy and Vermont-y theme, between the antique pictures of cows to the hand-dipped candles made in-state.
“This barn just has such a depth of warmth for me, I love it,” Pelletier said. “You don’t have to have all of this stuff in your home to have your home be done. A little bit can brighten your day. A floral pick in a vase, in a basket, can make you happy. A Gerbera daisy? Come on, that’s just happiness in a pot.”