Tomorrow is Mark C. Smith Day in the City of Seattle, honoring the retiring owner of West Seattle Nursery.
The proclamation by Mayor Jenny Durkan was read tonight by one of her predecessors, Greg Nickels, during a retirement celebration for Smith held in the nursery parking lot, just before that vivid pink sunset decorated the sky.
Smith spoke briefly, giving credit to his staff: “I am constantly amazed that people want to give me credit for this nursery. It’s never been me.” The party crowd was full of employees present and past:
Some of them took to the microphone to thank Smith for being the kind of boss who let them express their creativity. “I got to be me,” one said.
We first reported a month ago that Smith planned to retire. His family shared more backstory:
The announcement marked a major transition at a small business that has served the West Seattle community for almost four decades. The Nursery has sold a wide array of annuals and perennials, garden supplies, gifts, Christmas trees and wreaths, and more.
Throughout its history, the Nursery has donated resources to programs for children and youth, as well as local gardening. In 1995, the business founded the West Seattle Garden Tour, originally to benefit a burgeoning community group now known as ArtsWest.
“We were community activists before we launched the Nursery,” said Irene Stewart, who co-founded and operated the business with Smith until 1996. “We made an early commitment to support children and youth, as well as gardening, in West Seattle. After 35 years, the Nursery still works to make this community stronger.”
The Nursery began as a seasonal lot in the spring of 1984. Smith and Stewart set up shop first on SW Barton Street, across from Westwood Village. They moved around West Seattle until 1987, when they opened year round on land that is now a park by Beveridge Place.
In 1990, they moved to the current location at California Ave and SW Brandon St. And in 1992, they received a Mayor’s Small Business Award presented by then Mayor Norm Rice in recognition of their creativity and community reinvestment.
The Nursery has continued to grow in recent years. In 2017, it underwent a major expansion, opening a greenhouse on the adjacent property where Smith had lived for about 15 years. He offered to give his house to anyone who could haul it away (there were no takers).
“This has been an amazing journey. There have been some challenges but many more pleasant surprises,” said Smith. “Ultimately I think the Nursery has become a resource in the West Seattle community, and I am most proud of that achievement.”
Smith says he will miss the customers who enjoy shopping at the Nursery, especially in springtime when the lot overflows with flowers in bloom. He says he will also miss the Nursery’s staff, some of who have worked with him for decades.
“I have asked every manager at the Nursery to hire people who do the job better than me, and they did,” he said. “We have a fantastic team.”
The Nursery will remain open under new ownership to be announced in the coming weeks. For his part, Smith intends to stay active in retirement. Some plans include taking classes at South Seattle College and learning the Chinese martial art tai chi. He also wants to stay engaged.
“This is a new phase,” Smith said. “I look forward to trying new things and also finding new ways to give back to the West Seattle community that helped the business grow.”
P.S. Former Mayor Rice was at tonight’s party, too, so we took a photo of the city’s last two 2-term mayors:
While Smith expressed appreciation tonight for the honor, his warmest words went to his staff and customers: “I am very, very proud of this business … I am proud that the community loves this business.”