The Family Tree Garden Center, located in the building that once housed Pike’s Nursery, is not as far removed from its roots as one might think. The owner, Dana Pike-Van Vlake, is actually the daughter of Pete Pike, the founder of Pike Nurseries. The store on Highway 78, built in 1976 by Dana's brother and uncle, was the eighth store the family owned.
Dana still on occasion refers to it as “#8.”
Plants weren’t always Dana’s passion, although they arguably are now. She grew up working at Pike’s with her family, and like most teenagers, wasn’t too thrilled about that.
“I grew up pulling wagons, potting plants, growing them,” she said. “When I was in high school, I was a cashier at the stores.”
After she graduated from Tucker High School, she went to the University of Georgia for a degree in marketing and advertising. Her first job after college?
“It was something I grew into,” she explained. “When it was time to graduate, I thought, what better place to go?”
The Pike family sold the company -- including 26 individual stores -- to Roark Capital in 2004. Roark closed down the Snellville location in 2006, and the building sat empty until 2009. That is, until Dana and her father saw that the property was for sale.
“We had been retired for a few years,” said Dana, “and needed something to do.”
They purchased the store as an investment from Bank of America, but within a few days her father was talking to her about opening up another nursery.
The Pike franchises were eventually purchased by Mike Kunce and Armstrong Garden Centers, a nationally recognized chain of independent garden centers from California, after the initial purchasers went bankrupt. The new owners were able to build the franchise back into a reputable company.
Seeing the troubles faced by the Pike brand was hard on her family, according to Dana.
“It bothered us a lot,” she said, “seeing it in the news. My father had worked so hard, and poured his blood, sweat and tears into the business.”
Despite the set backs, everything came full circle when Family Tree Garden Center was born. Dana loves plants now more than she ever did and works with her father on a regular basis. The Center is the only one of its kind, and they hope to make it a destination store.
It's amazing what you can do with one store as opposed to 26, according to Dana. For example, they sometimes have varieties of plants that aren't even on the market yet, in part because they can make small orders.
They also teach classes and offer seminars on a regular basis. On top of that, the nursery offers a wide selection of hand-picked, one-of-a-kind home decor items. Their in-store decorator, Michael Romines, has exquisite taste, and shopping for items can quickly become an addiction at the Center.
The newest project is a Pete Pike museum. With its long history in Snellville, it seemed like the perfect location. The museum will have some of Pike's first ads, newspaper articles, and the story of he grew up and got started in the nursery business. Hopefully, garden clubs and other organizations from all around the state can hold their meetings there.
The father and daughter duo have created something unique and lasting. Just the other day, they stood together at the top of the greenhouse, looking out over the land and employees.
"He said to me, 'Dana, just look how beautiful. You couldn't go anywhere across the country and find better people than those who are working here,'" she recalled.