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Things are growing at The Green House

Tired of waiting for summer blooms? Step into The Green House in Carlton, and prepare for a visual feast that starts with the 5,000 hanging plants and spreads out in waist-high rows in nearly every direction. Eye-popping flowers in every color imaginable are offset by the greens of herbs, houseplants, ivy and other growing things.

"We get a lot of people popping in just to get a breath of spring," said Heather Bergherr. "Everyone is coming in, looking around, getting excited. They can't wait until they can plant outside."

Bergherr and her husband, Kyle, are the new owners of The Green House. They purchased the business and property from longtime owners Jim and Shirley Fahrenholz in January, and it's been nonstop growing ever since. That "growing" includes knowledge and responsibilities in addition to plants. But they are bursting at the seams with plants right now.

"We have hundreds of thousands of plants right now jammed into 15 greenhouses and 50,000 square feet of growing space," Heather said.

In addition to the home base in Carlton, they also have stores in Aitkin and McGregor, and pop-up locations in Cloquet, Superior and the Lakeside neighborhood of Duluth. Family and friends helped them get the pop-up buildings ready this past weekend, with plans to open those on May 9. They're also planning a combination Mother's Day event and grand opening in Carlton Saturday, May 13. There will be a photo booth for family pictures and other doings to mark the occasion.

Heather said she and Kyle had always dreamed of owning a greenhouse or florist shop, but kind of expected that dream to be fulfilled in retirement. Then she saw a listing for a local greenhouse and the couple decided to investigate.

Both of them came from the automotive industry, Kyle as a technician, and Heather as fixed operations (parts and service) director and then trainer.

With lots of help from the Entrepreneur Fund - whose advisors first helped them figure out what it would take and ultimately actually funded the purchase instead of a bank - the Bergherrs closed on the purchase a year later.

It's definitely not a retirement project.

Heather works long hours at "the compound," as her husband likes to call it, seven days a week. Kyle still works his job as an automotive technician eight hours a day, then comes home to Carlton and works more hours at The Green House. Last weekend they worked from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. Saturday, and came back Sunday morning. They were joined by 4-year-old Auggie, who can occasionally be found riding his scooter or bicycle down the maze of aisles there.

"He runs the place. He really likes all the people ... and the flowers," said his mom, adding that her 13-year-old daughter Lilly actually works there.

Right now they're in the midst of many transitions: from winter to actual spring, from employees to small-business owners, and from Superior to Carlton residents.

Heather said she could tell a difference between the two cities within hours of moving into the big old house that sits between the collection of greenhouse buildings at 210 Sixth Street and Highway 210.

In Superior they hardly ever saw their neighbors. In Carlton, people started stopping by with baked goods and welcoming messages within a couple hours.

"Everybody knows everybody," she said. "It's normal for my husband, who grew up near Cloquet and Alborn, but weird for me because we moved around a lot when I was growing up."

It's a good difference, she said, adding that they plan to join the Carlton Lions Club once they get a moment to breathe.

While they are leasing for now, they plan to purchase the grand old gray house once things have settled down with the business itself. It's an amazing place, she said.

"There's even a secret hallway with the old wallpaper and sconces. It's like something out of a Clue game," she said. "It's got a lot of character."

As the interview wrapped up, Heather took a call from someone looking for a hydrangea tree. Holding her cell phone - the case decorated with sunflowers - she rattled off the colors they have available: ivory silk, snow dance, berry white and strawberry sundae.

"I think people took a lot of damage because of the heavy snow," she said.

She tells the person on the other end that she can text some photos to her, and get a tree delivered to Aitkin - where their store is opening late because it was flooded - by the end of next week.

Heather said her experience with managing inventory, people and time is super helpful, and the learning curve regarding the plants themselves is manageable, especially with transitional help from Jim and Shirley.

"We are selling plants versus selling labor, but time is still the most important thing day to day," Heather said. "You're working against the growing season."

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