The walls of his office are bare, including those photographs from 1955 when John Fairley Dunn opened the little nursery along Skibo Road long before the commercial chain stores came along.
The showroom with statues and garden supplies was thinning out, too.
“It’s sad,” J.F. Dunn Jr., 78, was saying last week as he prepares for the close of Dunn’s Nursery & Garden Shop, where he’s worked since 1965. “But it’s time.”
The nursery has been a smorgasbord of azaleas, camellias, roses, boxwoods, centipede sod and dogwood, River Birch, crepe myrtle, fruit and Japanese persimmon trees, and all the trappings for landscapes.
“I got back from Fort Knox from the National Guard,” Dunn says in remembering the day his mother, Virginia Dunn, sat him down in the kitchen of her Haymount Hill home for a conversation. “I was selling shoes downtown and my Mama sat me down one day and said, ‘We’d like you to go out and help your daddy.’ There was no traffic and just an old country store. The nursery was just in a little stucco building.”
Dunn never left the nursery from the day he arrived to help his father.
“We’ve serviced all of the fine people of Fayetteville,” Dunn says. “Thousands and thousands and thousands, and from Raeford, Dunn, Eastover, Spring Lake and Lumberton. We’ve done a lot of commercial work for churches, restaurants, Fayetteville Publishing Co. and on Fort Bragg. Mainly, we sell service — our time and information — and we take care of our customers. Fayetteville gets a bad kick sometimes, but there are some wonderful people in this town.”
He knows every inch of the nursery.
His footprints are everywhere.
“This has been my entire life,” Dunn says. “I’ve worked every Saturday and every holiday. My age has something to do with it, and I want to do some things I want to do. And I want to spend time with my daughters.”
The nursery will be selling all of its plants, statues and the entire inventory up to 50% off beginning Monday, Dunn says, with the final business day scheduled for July 20 or whenever everything is gone.
“I’m happy and I’m sad I’m doing it,” Dunn says. “But I knew one day I’d have to do it, and the day is here. I told my daughters that my daddy gets all the credit. He was 55 when he started this business. He had very little education, but he was a hard worker. He made the right decisions. And without him, where would the Dunn family be today? You can give me some credit, but most of the credit to him.”
Emotions are bittersweet
The days for the nursery’s end are near.
“I have mixed emotions about the closing of Dunn’s Nursery,” daughter Leslie Dunn Nienaber says. “The nursery has been such a huge part of our family's life, and I have so many fond memories of my Mom, Dad, sister and grandmother there over the course of my lifetime.
“I am so proud of Dad and all he has accomplished.
“He has invested so much of his time and energy into building such a wonderful family landscaping business in Fayetteville, and it will be difficult to see it close,” she says. “The decision makes me both happy and sad at the same time.”
Daughter Angie Falsion shares in her sister’s emotions.
“It is bittersweet to think of my Dad’s retirement,” she says. “There are so many fond memories growing up around the nursery ... from roller-skating around when I was young to my grandmother working the register to the old gumball machines. It makes me smile to think of sneaking off to the nursery to help dad wrap Mom’s Christmas gifts.
“I am sure my grandfather would be proud of my Dad, as I am, for taking the business to the next level.
“I am truly grateful to have someone in my life who has such a drive to work hard and assist others,” Falsion says. “He made Dunn’s Nursery a special place, where you could always find plants that were unique that you couldn’t find down the street. It is time for my Dad to step away and end a wonderful chapter on his own terms. Dunn’s Nursery means so much to so many people that its legacy will live on in people’s hearts.”
‘This place changed my life’
Perhaps no one more than Clarence Johnson, 39, who has worked at the nursery for 15 years and now is general manager.
“There will be a great void in Fayetteville,” Johnson says, and in his life. “This place changed my life for the best. It gave me a trade. The experience and knowledge I gained was with the help of Mr. Dunn, and I am very fortunate.”
When the nursery closes on the final day, Johnson says he will be there with Dunn.
“When five o’clock comes, I’m going to be with him when we lock the gates, and I will be with him for anything he ever needs. He has helped me financially and taught me about finances. I’m going to cry some more that day. I look at this as a beautiful chapter. He has been like a father to me. If I didn’t have this job, I couldn’t have been there for my two sons without Mr. Dunn.”
Dunn says Johnson is like a son to him. Johnson says Dunn has been like a father.
“I’m taking care of my guys,” Dunn says.
He has lined up a nursery job for Johnson, and Ricky Gaines will work for Dunn in private life.
J.F. Dunn looks at the bare office walls stripped of photographs except for two overlooking his desk: one of his late wife, Barbara Allen Dunn, who died Dec. 18, 2021, and the other of Dundee the cat, who called the nursery home for more than 15 years. He’ll see them on that final day of the nursery, and see his father out by the plants and trees, his mother behind the cash register and many longtime customers, too.
“It’s sad,” Dunn says. “But it’s time.”
Bill Kirby Jr. can be reached at email@example.com or 910-624-1961.