Tommy Feiber and Riley Blitch founded San Felasco Nurseries, Inc. in 1974 on a parcel of land adjacent to the San Felasco Hammock State Wildlife Preserve. Riley's father, Loonis Blitch, a former County Extension Agent, originally purchased the 100 acres that the nursery was developed on. San Felasco Nursery was established to propagate, grow and supply plants for Riley's retail nursery, the Garden Gate, and for Tommy's landscape company, Gainesville Landscape Contractors.
In 1975, Alan Shapiro was working at the Garden Gate Nursery when he learned of an opportunity to transfer to the "farm" and work at Riley and Tommy's growing operation. He agreed to take over management of San Felasco if he could earn ownership through sweat equity. The agreement was made, and Alan became part-owner.
For four years, Alan grew the business, producing more plants than the retail nursery and landscape company could use. With an ever-increasing inventory of plants, it was agreed that San Felasco should start marketing its excess to other wholesale buyers.
In the next few years, more land was cleared and more fields were installed as the business expanded. San Felasco developed a loyal customer base that included garden centers in Orlando, Jacksonville, and Tampa. Plants were delivered in an old bread van fitted with shelves.
Then in 1981, Riley Blitch and Tommy Feiber decided that they were no longer interested in wholesaling. Rather than dissolving the corporation, Alan bought San Felasco Nurseries, Inc. and moved his share of plants six miles down the road to a 15-acre parcel of land off Farnsworth Road that had been owned by the Penrods.
During the first years after the move, a University of Florida Environmental Horticulture graduate named Mark Stewart was the only other San Felasco employee. They had one old 1966 Ford pickup truck, an old farm wagon, and a Myers sprayer. Mark lived on the property in a trailer. One field was developed and filled up and then another, and before long, the first 15 acres was full. Ten more acres were bought from Mrs. Romeis next door, and within a couple of years, they were filled too.
With no neighbors willing to sell their property, in 1985 Alan was forced to look elsewhere for additional land. Luckily, he was able to buy an existing nursery with 16 acres that specialized in annual, vegetable and herb production just 5 miles away on Millhopper Road. He inherited from Gary and Janet Stein a fully staffed business, inventory and all, which complemented San Felasco's product line of woody shrubs and trees. That same year, the Shapiro's established a high-end retail nursery on Newberry Road near I-75 called the Plant Shoppe in Greenery Square.
In 1987, Shapiro purchased the 15 acres to the north, a fruit nursery that had belonged to Stan Michelini. Stan's shed and tree plantings form the backbone of San Felasco’s old display garden.
The largest expansion of the nursery occurred in 1997 when 40 heavily wooded acres to the east were purchased from Mrs. Frase. Up until then, the main office was always at the 32nd Avenue location, but since the Millhopper Road location had grown to be three times as big, it seemed only logical to build the new office there.
The next three years saw the rapid expansion of the nursery with the installation of a state-of-the-art chemical mixing facility, construction of 18 cold frames, a potting barn, and 4 acres of shade, and the digging of a two million gallon pond for water re-use.
In 2001, 35 more acres were purchased to the northeast. This enlargement took us right to the fence line of I75, so the nursery became visible from the road.
Soon afterward, we sold the 25 acres on 32nd Avenue and consolidated all operations to the north location on Millhopper Road.
From 2003 to 2005, we added 15 new fields, a new potting barn, 8 cold frames, and a 2-acre retractable roof Cravo greenhouse. We also started pumping water from our recycling pond to irrigate over half the nursery.
San Felasco Nurseries became Grandiflora in the summer of 2004 as we rolled out our new branding program and logo. Since the trade show in Atlanta, our flowering plant line has been promoted as “Grandiflora Grown ... long-lasting southern blooms” on large portrait tags designed by the John Henry Corporation.
In the fall of 2004, we were in the path of two of the four hurricanes that hit Florida. In both storms, trees fell on power lines in the nursery, cutting off our electricity for several days. The area around our recycling pond became full of runoff and flooded back into adjacent fields. Through the efforts of dedicated nursery employees, we were able to make repairs and get back to business quickly with only minor losses of plant material.
Since the hurricanes of 2005, we have built 6 new greenhouses for propagation of liners incorporating the latest, most up-to-date time clocks, chlorine injectors, hanging mist heads and colored shade cloth. We have also constructed a new barn/head house for the propagators to work in.
During the recession which began in 2008, Grandiflora did little expansion, instead concentrating on improving efficiency, eliminating wastefulness, streamlining the infrastructure, upgrading its marketing efforts with a better web site, and positioning the nursery to come out strongly when the economy turns around. Like a well-trained athlete, Grandiflora is leaner, meaner and hungrier for success. The entire staff is hopeful that 2014 will be an exciting and profitable year.