Sandy • Loren and Debbie Nielsen hung the yellow “store closing” signs in August, plenty of time — it seemed — to prepare for Wednesday’s final day of business at Wasatch Shadows Nursery.
Still, as the couple stood among the empty shelves and 80-percent-off tags, they had mixed emotions about shutting down their well-known business, which has been rooted in the state’s gardening and landscape industry for more than four decades.
“The most rewarding thing,” explained Loren, ”is how many people have come in and said how much they will miss us.”
A memory book inside the store is filled with customer good wishes — and laments — about the closure and the Nielsens' pending retirement.
“We will miss your great store and especially your expertise,” wrote one loyal patron.
“Where am I going to find the beautiful unique gifts for my friends and family?” asked another.
Joe and Bobbie Halverson have been shopping at the Sandy nursery for more than 30 years. “We cannot imagine not roaming through the beautiful plants, shrubs, and trees,” they wrote. “Just a peaceful experience. Thank you for giving Sandy a magical place.”
Even people who have never shopped at the store at 9295 S. 255 West know the Wasatch Shadows name. The nursery’s catchy jingle was heard far and wide for decades on radio and television advertisements.
A few years ago, the Nielsens thought about rebranding and doing away with the tune, said Debbie, “but our customers said, ‘No, don’t do it.’”
Through the years, the Nielsens have been approached numerous times by companies that wanted to develop the 10-acre property, located immediately west of Rio Tinto Stadium and visible from Interstate 15.
As the couple neared retirement age — in February, Loren and Debbie will turn 65 and 63, respectively — they finally agreed it was time to sell.
Sandy is purchasing the property, but the city plans to keep it only temporarily, while it completes a master plan for the area known as Stadium Village. The first draft of the master plan should be introduced early next year, explained Nick Duerksen, Sandy’s economic development director.
Various scenarios have been discussed for the property, including a mix of restaurants, retail, residential and parking options.
Duerksen said once there has been a public hearing and the master plan has been adopted by the City Council, “then we will look to sell the property to someone who will build something that the plan calls for.”
The sale has been bittersweet for the city. “We hate to lose the Nielsens,” Duerksen said. “They have been a great Sandy business and the best people to work with.”
Sandy resident Larry Seeborg also is sad to see Wasatch Shadows go — and not just because he will miss the gardening advice.
“It’s been a shame to see open spaces once occupied by nurseries, fruit orchards and small farms disappear from the Salt Lake Valley,” he said.
Seeborg fears the canal and trees, which separate the nursery from the stadium, will be turned into a parking lot for Real Salt Lake soccer fans.
The Nielsens, who watched the stadium being built, said the venue has been both a negative and a positive. On one hand, it brings explosive traffic to the area on game days, but it also exposes the nursery to people from all over the valley.
Loren said soccer fans would often come early to a game — to get a prime parking spot on the road in front of nursery — and then spend time shopping in the store before heading to the stadium.
Loren started working at Wasatch Shadows as a manager in 1976, when the original owner, Jack Johnson, opened the nursery. Back then, it was on a 1.5-acre plot on Highland Drive in Holladay, earning its name because it sat in the shadows of the Wasatch Mountains.
Several years later, the Johnsons closed the original store and moved it to its Sandy location. “It was a big venture,” Loren remembers. “There was nothing out here.”
After managing the store for 16 years, the Nielsens bought the business in 1992. Debbie, along with the couple’s five children and dozens of local employees, have worked at the nursery, known for its large selection of trees, shrubs, ornamental grasses and perennials.
“We’ve tried to carry anything that our customers might want,” said Loren, who had no formal training in the nursery business.
“I learned on the job,” he said, but he eventually got his nursery certification in 1980. He later became president of the Utah Nursery and Landscape Association.
Faithful members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the Nielsens decided early on to close on Sundays. People told him it would be his demise, but it only endeared him to the community and helped him attract employees who felt the same about working on the Sabbath.
Of course, some of the plants still needed to be watered by hand on Sundays, so after church, Loren would come in, finding the solitary work “some of the most enjoyable."
The Neilsens aren’t sure what “chapter two” of their life might entail. Loren says he might do some landscape consulting, so he can continue “helping people create beautiful yards.”
Until then, the couple seem satisfied with what they have accomplished at Wasatch Shadows.
“Not many people can spend 42 years in the same career,” Loren said. “I looked forward to getting up in the morning and going to work.”