Saturday, February 4, 2012

Skillin's Basics

Hello again,

It is a New Year and many of you email subscribers might be fairly new to Skillin's so I quickly want to review Skillin's history.

As you may or may not know we have been a family enterprise since 1885. We currently are in our 5th generation of Skillin's. Alexander "Pa" Skillin and his brother Charles founded Skillin's way back in 1885. At that time, Skillin's mostly catered to the crowd of people who populated Falmouth and other area estates in the summer. We sold our summer friends fresh cut flowers, garden plants, vegetables and knowing "Pa" we gave away lots of free stories. The business was indeed on the present Route 88 site in Falmouth. Charles soon drifted away to other pursuits but "Pa" stayed at it. I am not sure what “Pa” did year round but I do know he spent many nights shoveling coal into the furnace to keep the cold at bay.

Through the early 20th century the business grew as year round population started to become more and more common. By this time, Skillin's was doing much yard and tree work for people and "Pa" had been joined by his son Alexander or "Alec". My Aunt Sally fondly remembers "Alec" as the nicest man she has ever met (not bad considering he was her father in law). The business was growing into the year round selling of plants and we were also becoming a florist; my Aunt Florence (Alec's sister and daughter of "Pa") helped in the greenhouse and floral areas and also did the bookkeeping.

Aunt Florence had no children but Alec fathered John and David Skillin--the third generation--and many of you might know of them today. Tragedy struck in 1950 as Alec died of cancer. "Pa" was getting along in years (but still working, only taking less naps), John was attending college at UMO, and David was only 13. The decision was made for John to come home on weekends and work but for him to finish his education, for Dave to hopefully "turn out all right" and for Aunt Florence to "hang on" and wait for John. Aunt Florence was one brave lady and her contribution to Skillin's should never be forgotten.

John arrived on the scene fully in the spring of 1952 and the business was in tough shape. Alive but hurting. Times were tough and Skillin's owed many people a lot of money. Good and wise friends who knew finances were telling John and his family to give up the business--it could not work. John went around and promised to make good and then some on what was owed. If you ever knew John Skillin, you would trust him and believe him. Because he was John.
He delivered.

Dave Skillin arrived from the UMass Stockbridge School of Agriculture and a bout with the U.S. Navy in 1957. Aunt Florence was still on board. Larry Leeman, a trusted family friend, also came on board. "Pa" died in 1958 but momentum was strong--the Skillin's modern era had begun. John and Dave were young, personable, visionary and absolutely dedicated. Skillin's as you know it now was beginning to form. John and Dave used to visit many Massachusetts and Connecticut garden centers on trips to pick up the best in plant material. I have good memories of those trips as a child. They borrowed many good ideas and came up with a few of their own and developed Maine's first garden center and nursery. By 1966, our Falmouth gift shop was built with the help of good friend Fred Chase. Bright glass greenhouses were hauled up from Massachusetts. Skillin's Greenhouses was now a full scale greenhouse, nursery, garden center, gift shop and florist!

Skillin's was also one of the leading landscapers at the time. Dave Skillin headed this area of the business along with trusted and important friends like Al Lappin. Terry Skillin--the leader of the fourth generation--and Joel Leeman, still with Skillin's after 40 plus years got their start with Skillin's as landscapers. But Dave and John wanted to start a new store and make new friends, and this led to our opening of our second store in Brunswick Maine in 1969. The landscaping side was eventually closed as we focused on making Skillin's in Falmouth and Brunswick the type of stores you see today. John and Jeff Skillin built energy efficient true Solar greenhouses during the energy crisis days of the 1970's.

The early days were kind of quiet at times in Brunswick as Dave would often mow the lawn in the front just to let people know that we were there. Long days and nights were spent selling apples, cider and peanut butter at the Topsham Fair just so we could meet people. But as the greater Bath/Brunswick/Topsham area has grown so has Skillin's in Brunswick. We are now in our 44th year in Brunswick! Gordon Merrill and many others have picked up the baton from Dave Skillin and we have a first rate store and a first rate staff with people like Charley Madden and Chris Gill from our past leading to Hilda Green and now many others who are part of our present and future. And Gordon Merrill deserves special mention again--his dedication over the years has paid off in a model operation.

During the 70's and 80's we had 3 successful Mall stores at the Maine Mall, Promenade Mall in Lewiston, and the Windham Mall. Terry Skillin (fourth generation) came on board to lead our Mall store effort. Jeff Skillin, his brother, graduated from UMass Stockbridge School of Agriculture and has modernized our all important plant production. Terry and Jeff are sons of John and now lead the business. Back in Falmouth, we salute the efforts of good friends like Larry Leeman, Rick Price, Al Lappin, Jesse O'Brien, Sally Bolstridge, Laurie Jameson and many others who have helped us greatly and who we will always be grateful to. Mary Mixer came to Skillin's via the Maine Mall in 1975 and is still our hardest working person here. Sally Bolstridge (on her second tour of duty), Tim Bate and Sue Destefano are here daily and offer over 70 years of experience between them to help our customers—their dedication and professionalism is an inspiration to us all. Rick Price just completed another year of helping us--he has been part of the family since the 1960's. Equally important are our so called behind the scenes people like Lisa Skillin (Jeff’s wife) and Elaine Warner-Stedt who staff the office, answer the phone, track the inventory and support the retail staff (and many times are right there with the retail staff) in so many ways and capacities. Sally Skillin (John’s wife) just passed away in late 2010 and she was a connection to important people of the past like Frances Olson. We can never thank enough the names I have just named.

Melissa Skillin Smith and Mike Skillin are Dave Skillin's children and we try to help wherever we can! And Dave Skillin is still very active in the business!

John Skillin passed away in 2002 but he has touched so many of us. That same year saw the arrival of the 5th generation, Chad Skillin (Terry's son) who like his grandfather John graduated from UMO; with a degree in landscape design and he has brought a new angle to Skillin's.

In 2003, we combined forces with the Allen Family in Cumberland and now operate Skillin's Cumberland. Phil Allen has passed away but his wife Wendi works with us and she has become a valued and trusted friend. And we have gained so many more friends through our Cumberland store.

We all work hard here at Skillin's and we love it. But without the support of our families at home we could not so easily do our jobs.

We owe a special and biggest thanks to you, our customer. I have listed a lot of names and dates here (and left out names I should mention I am sure—please forgive me) but your loyalty has kept us going over good times and bad. We are looking forward to 2012 and cannot wait to see you.

As this article is being revised for 2012, it seems this country faces huge challenges. We are all a little older, maybe more forgetful but wiser indeed. We may be more humble but we are also more resolute. We have survived wars and depressions; untimely passings and seen new births and lived to thrive in many times. We have emerged from other daunting times and will again. Warmth and joy is here--let's embrace it!

Thank you for being a customer and a friend.

Mike Skillin

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Just lovely, thanks for that! And now I can finally place all you Skillins. At the start I just had to assume the funniest and craziest person in the room was the Skillin ;)