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Shrub lot manager Joyce Davis, right, relocates Gardenias while working at the Barn Nursery on Thursday. Staff Photo by Dan Henry/The Chattanooga Times Free Press

In the past 50 years, the Barn Nursery has grown from a small roadside fruit stand to a garden center that now is in full bloom.

When it began in 1960 within a pre-Civil War dairy barn in Rossville, it was simply known as The Barn. Twenty-eight years later Jim Webster added plants to the store's offerings, changing the name to the Barn Nursery.

Webster's father bought the store in the late '60s and Webster took over after his father died in 1980. At 19 years old, he was a college business major and knew little about running a business, but he took the reins because he had to, he said.

"I wasn't real thrilled about it, to be honest with you," Webster said.

Now sitting on 7.5 acres of land beside Interstate 24 in Chattanooga, the former produce stand he wasn't thrilled about running has become a significant money maker.

In the past year after expanding its offerings to include pottery in what is now the Pottery Barn, sales shot up by $1 million, said Webster's wife, Cindy. A renovation near completion that will add another acres of retail space, including 5,000 square feet for house plants, should produce a similar sales increase this year, she said.

"Having increased sales in this down economy, we've just been real tickled with the growth we've had," Cindy said.

Sara Melton, manager and head buyer, started working at the nursery 19 years ago as a cashier. Over the years, she's seen a lot change as the facility has expanded and its following has grown.

"We've really gone from being kind of a low key, every day sort of mom and pop garden center to really a place that ranks up there as one of the best in the country," Melton said.

She said the seasonal nature of the gardening business has been a challenge, but each year the nursery tries to add diversity to its product mix to take advantage of all 12 months in the year.

Within the next five years, Melton said there will be more expansion toward the highway side of the business's property as well as some remodeling.

Jim Webster said he hopes in that period the nursery will become a top 10 garden shop in the country.

"We're on our way," he said. "There are some very large, very nice garden centers in the Northeast, but a number of vendors tell us we're already the best in the Southeast."

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