Originally, the business was located in the Pine Tap building on Calumet Avenue and was known as Chesterton Feed & Supply. In 1938, Ben Bellman purchased the business and moved it to Grant Street in Chesterton. The store provided the town of Chesterton with farm and grain products. Rudy Bellman, Ben’s brother, took over the business in 1943 and owned it until his death in 1954. His wife, Ruth, continued the business until 1955, when Everett Hundt of Wanatah purchased the company and renamed it Hundt’s Feed & Garden Center.
In the late 1950’s, the store was bought by the Pliske brothers, Walt, Tom and John, who were also known in the community as Pliske Brothers Construction. As garden centers came into vogue, the Pliske brothers saw the need for expansion and in 1960 built the store’s present location at 400 Locust Street. The Pliskes renamed the store Chesterton Feed & Garden Center. The store expanded from largely farm supply items to more of a garden center theme. Half the store was devoted to a sporting goods section, a bait shop, and a live small animal department, including parakeets, hamsters, gerbils, guinea pigs, turtles and fish.
In 1965, Laverne Burchfield acquired the business. As a sign of the times, Miss Burchfield had the entire garden center redesigned by Fred and George Keck who were renowned architects of the Chicago’s World’s Fair homes. The previous owners, Pliske brothers of Pliske Brother Construction, assisted in the remodeling in 1967. Laverne Burchfield installed the store’s first Lord and Burnham greenhouse, which was the beginning of the nursery expansion.
The Past 30 Years and Counting
In 1980, after working for Laverne Burchfield part time throughout his high school and college years, Chuck Roth, Jr., along with his father, Chuck Roth, Sr., purchased the business from Laverne Burchfield. As Chuck’s mentor, she was secure in knowing Chuck would carry on her dreams and ideals for a successful garden center.
Although the garden center had been kept up to date and was very progressive for its time, changes in the industry were dictating new ways to handle products and plants. At the time, the sale of perennials was new to the industry. Chesterton Feed & Garden Center boasted a selection of 12 different varieties. Instead of being individually potted, Chesterton Feed & Garden Center offered perennials that were planted a dozen to a crate. When you purchased a perennial, it was dug out of the crate and wrapped in newspaper to be taken home and planted. In addition, every spring, mums were planted in the back field, hand pinched, hoed and fertilized until fall when they were in full bloom. Customers would walk the rows and pick out the plants they wanted. Chuck and the store employees would hand dig and place the freshly dug mums in cardboard boxes for the customers to transport home and plant.
For the store to excel and grow, faster and easier ways to process plants became a necessity. A new greenhouse was constructed strictly for the purpose of perennial production, and Chuck Jr. was able to expand the line of perennials, and begin growing them in individual pots so the customer could select their own specific plants. In the midst of all this growth, Chuck Sr. worked to keep the behind-the-scenes aspects running smoothly, and mom Barbara “Chick” Roth stepped in to help water plants and cashier during the busy months. Virginia Pliske, long time employee of Miss Burchfield, had stayed on as a valuable employee, and was a key part of day-to-day operations. Chuck Jr. hired the store’s first fulltime employee, Linda Armstrong, in 1981, and she jumped into the crew full force. She proved to be a strong asset to the organization’s early years of growth. With this team, and the energy of the area’s growth, the store continued to expand and grow.
In the following years there were many changes made to the store. More greenhouse space and outside display areas were added. The business continued successfully, and further product development and store expansion was inevitable.
Chuck began starting all of the store’s own plants from bare root to ensure a high quality, healthy product for the customers.
First Annual Christmas Open House & Wild Bird Seminar.
First Annual Resident Turkey, Bob, on display. There has been a live turkey on display during Thanksgiving season every year since.
Spring Chick Days was started as a source for area farmers to purchase their yearly poultry supplies.
Organic Fertilizer Sale made organic products available to the many natural gardeners in the area for the first time.
The Garden Patch (similar to Victory Gardens) was established on the property as a series of rental garden plots for community members.
Observation Beehive was added as an educational tool at the store.
The Greenery was introduced, showcasing foliage and flowering houseplants and specializing in blooming cactus.
Herbs and Oddities Garden was begun as a showplace garden to allow customers to look, touch, smell, and taste the many herbs growing in the garden.
Autumn Days Celebration (precursor to our current Customer Appreciation Week event) was added as a day of informative programs on subjects ranging from beekeeping, growing bulbs, and organic gardening to herb growing and harvesting.
Began carrying Christmas trees.
National Garden Week Seminars on Moles, Lawns, Vegetable Gardening and Organic Gardening.
Added new warehouse.
Expanded hours for longer weekday shopping experience.
Added 1200 sq ft of greenhouse space (3 greenhouse huts) and added ¼ acre of nursery area in back lot to house a larger selection of trees, shrubs and perennials.
Store added a Water Gardening department.
Remodeled front of store to create an aesthetic shopping area for the new gift department.
Built a 3500 gallon display koi pond complete with stream and waterfall.
Added 1200 sq ft of greenhouse.
Automatic watering system installed in nursery and increased nursery selling area by 2300 sq ft.
Expanded indoor retail space and added on much-needed office space. A large outdoor building was added behind nursery to stage arriving plant orders.
Expanded display pond to 4400 gallons and added the latest technology in water features—a pondless streambed.
Retail greenhouse space expanded to 3,000 square feet.
Onward and Upward
In recent years, Chuck’s longtime fascination with nature and wildlife led him to expand the wild bird department to carry a larger assortment of wild bird feeders, accessories and the highest quality wild bird feeds. His love for and interest in plants continues to guide the ever-growing expansion in the nursery. His concern for the environment has led to many natural and organic alternatives being offered throughout the store. Even the pet department is filled with many healthy, alternative pet foods such as holistic and organic pet foods. When adding the water gardening department, including farm pond supplies, Chuck’s thorough research and development gave Chesterton Feed & Garden Center the distinction of being unequaled in the water garden industry. He built a water garden on the property for customers to enjoy and uses this pond as a testing ground to gain experience and expertise to share with his customers.