O'Toole's Garden Center in Littleton, a beloved family-run business for more than 30 years, announced it will be closing Aug. 31 after selling its property to a developer.
Adele O'Toole, whose late husband Jim founded the garden center, said the decision was not an easy one.
“I did not go looking to sell," said O'Toole, who owns the center. “It was out of my hands.”
O'Toole said the sale was spurred by new development plans that would encroach on the vast majority of parking space used by the garden center, located at West Belleview Avenue and South Federal Boulevard. Much of the parking is on land not owned by O'Toole.
If the development goes through, O'Toole said, the garden center would only be left with 30 parking spaces that it owns, far less than it needs to maintain business.
"We know that in a weekend in May, we’ll have 9,000 customers," O'Toole said. "And with 30 parking spaces that’s not going to work”
Lennar Multifamily Communities, a North Carolina-based developer that bought the O'Toole property, had been eyeing the neighboring site at Columbine Square for its proposal to build 359 apartment homes along with new commercial spaces, which it outlined to the City of Littleton in a letter of intent on Aug. 27, 2021.
But O'Toole said she was not made aware of the current plans from Lennar until January. Still, O'Toole said, the writing had been on the wall for years.
Since the garden center fended off a previous developer who sought to buy it in 2012, O'Toole said a sale of the center was imminent.
“We knew we were on borrowed time," O'Toole said.
O'Toole said she broke the news to the center's roughly 25 full-time employees Tuesday and said they will be financially compensated with a bonus severance.
With two other garden stores in Lakewood and Westminster, O'Toole said there is potential for some staff to relocate to either store.
With three decades of history in Littleton, O'Toole's has grown to be more than just a refuge for those with a green thumb. The center, led by its manager Chris Ibsen, has partnered with a host of charities and nonprofits to grow its community support.
“This was a place where people could gather, where people could meet old friends, friends you haven't seen in a while,” Ibsen said. “There are families that shopped here with their kids many years ago, and now a lot of their kids are bringing their kids to shop here”
Ibsen said he remembered the center's founder Jim O'Toole, who died from cancer in 2006, as someone who treated him "more like a partner than an employee.”
Adele O'Toole said shortly before Jim died, he asked that the center continue to uphold its legacy of character.
“One of the last things he said to me was ‘take care of the managers, and take care of the community,’” O'Toole said. “To say goodbye to Littleton is not easy."
O'Toole said the center will remain in operation in full force until its closure Aug. 31. And discussions are already underway to see if a new space can be secured to reopen the store, though it may not be in Littleton.
“We’d like to find somewhere in Littleton, in Englewood, we’re very open," O'Toole said. “It’s very sad to say goodbye to good friends. But we are looking forward to, you know, spring always coming. We’re extremely hopeful.”
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