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Middletown Life

Willey Farms rises again

Aug 09, 2019 11:17AM ● By J. Chambless

Willey’s Market has reopened just north of the garden center and greenhouse.

By Steven Hoffman
Staff Writer

On the evening of Nov. 5, 2018, an electrical fire started at the north end of Willey Farms’ market. The fire spread quickly. Firefighters from four states responded to the five-alarm blaze, but despite the best efforts of emergency responders, Willey Farms could not be saved. A business that had served residents in Townsend and the surrounding communities for more than four decades was gone.

“It was pretty devastating for us and the community,” explained Willey Farms marketing coordinator Donna Cavender.

The question on everyone’s mind after the fire was whether the popular family-owned business would return.

At the time of the fire, preparations were underway for the big Christmas open house. Willey Farms is a popular destination for shoppers wanting to look for unique holiday gifts. Most of the merchandise for the Christmas open house had been destroyed in the fire, of course. But the Christmas trees that had already been ordered for the 2018 holiday season arrived after the fire. Not wanting to disappoint customers, Willey Farms decided to sell the Christmas trees, some Christmas wreaths, and a few other holiday items that they were able to bring in.

People turned out in large numbers to show their support for the beloved business. Some people who usually put up artificial trees in their homes bought real trees simply because they wanted to support the local business after the devastating fire.

“There were so many people who came out to buy Christmas trees,” Cavender recalled. “It was good to see all of our customers again, and to see that community support.”

The warm reception from the community had a big impact on the owners and staff at Willey Farms, Cavender said.

“It gave us the will to come back,” she explained.

It wouldn’t be easy to rebuild, but in the early part of 2019, decisions started to be made about how Willey Farms could make a comeback—one small step at a time.

“It had taken us 40-plus years to expand to that point,” Cavender explained. Rebuilding wouldn’t be accomplished overnight.

The family-owned business took a big step toward rebuilding when, after months of planning and hard work, the Willey’s garden center and greenhouse opened in mid-April, offering a wide variety of garden plants, vegetable plants, unique gifts, and more. Once again, the community showed its love for the business by turning out in droves when the garden center reopened for another spring season.

“It was a massive opening,” Cavender said. “It was great.”

It was also a relief.

In those dark days immediately after the fire, there was certainly a question about whether Willey Farms could be rebuilt and reopened. The opening of the garden center was evidence that the fire had failed in its mission to destroy something that is very important to this community. Everyone was relieved—and happy—to know that Willey Farms would be rebuilt.

A new, smaller Willey’s Market located just north of the greenhouse and garden center opened, offering the freshest fruits, vegetables, and wide variety of natural foods. It was another big step in a remarkable comeback.

Cavender pointed out that it’s a slow, lengthy process to get all the necessary permits and to take all the steps that are necessary to rebuild a business as diverse as Willey Farms.

“Everybody wants to know, are we going to rebuild? The answer is yes,” she explained. “But we have to take all those small steps to get there.”

Willey Farms is slowly building back what was lost in the fire. The total square feet of the facilities is less than before, but they are maximizing the space by utilizing their records of sales to identify the items that were most popular with customers.

“We’re trying to offer as much of what the customers want as we can,” Cavender explained.

The customers are delighted to have Willey Farms back.

On a warm, overcast day in early July, Kara Streets, a resident of Middletown, went to Willey Farms to purchase oakleaf hydrangeas and some other plants at the garden center.

Like thousands of other customers in the area, she is happy to be able to still shop at one of her favorite places.

“The fire was devastating, but they are bringing it back,” she said. She explained why she has been coming to Willey Farms to buy plants, crafts, and other unique items for more than two decades.

“I enjoy coming here and looking around to see what they have,” she said. “They always have unique items that you can’t find anywhere else. The plants are always healthy and they have a good selection. I’m a very satisfied customer.”

Willey Farms is located at 4092 Dupont Parkway in Townsend. The hours are Monday through Saturday 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. and Sunday 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Call 302-378-8441.

To contact Staff Writer Steven Hoffman, email editor@chestercounty.com.

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