Johnny Naylor, former owner of Naylor’s Hardware and Garden Center, inside Clegg’s Nursery, which he’s partnered with after having his business wiped out in the August flood. Photography by Allie Appel
Among the casualties of the August flood was Naylor’s Hardware and Garden Center. The Old Hammond Highway store and nursery took on nearly five feet of water. Though some of the merchandise was salvageable the building was destroyed, and without flood insurance it’s too expensive for 63-year-old Johnny Naylor—who opened the store in 1983—to rebuild and start over.
“I could take out a loan, but I don’t want to be in debt until I’m 90,” says Naylor, whose father and uncles founded the original Naylor Bros. Hardware on Government Street the year he was born. “My retirement is sitting in a big old wet heap out in our nursery yard, and I’m now sitting on a piece of wet property that is not worth what it was a month ago.”
For Baton Rouge it was another blow in a summer of blows—a little one, perhaps, but another loss nonetheless. In the days after the flood, Naylor’s Facebook page was inundated with posts from loyal customers, who bemoaned the demise of their beloved neighborhood institution.
“This wasn’t supposed to be my exit strategy.” —Johnny Naylor, former owner, Naylor’s Hardware and Garden Center
But something of a phoenix has risen from the metaphorical ashes of Naylor’s: A partnership with Clegg’s Nursery, which also sustained damage at two of its three stores during the flood. It’s not exactly a merger. But it’s a way to keep Naylor’s legacy alive through a stronger, more diversified Clegg’s.
“We are bringing our strengths and putting it with their strengths and trying to make Clegg’s one of the premier nurseries in the area,” says Naylor.
The deal was hatched just a few days after the floodwaters had receded and was the brainchild of Clegg’s co-owner Tom Fennell. He’d assessed the damage to his stores, and it wasn’t good.
The greenhouse at the Greenwell Springs location was totaled, and the entire fall crop of mums, petunias and marigolds was literally washed away into the Amite River. The Denham Springs store also sustained damage, though not as much. Fennell estimates the total loss at around $500,000, and, like Naylor, he didn’t have flood insurance.
Fennell knew from social media how badly Naylor’s had flooded, and he had an idea. He called longtime Naylor’s manager Butch Drewes, whom he’d known professionally for years, and floated a suggestion.
“I told him, ‘I have buildings to sell out of but nothing to sell. You have salvageable stuff but no building. Let’s see if we can put something together and help each other out,’” Fennell says. “By Wednesday, we sat down and said, ‘Let’s do this. We’ll work out the details later.’”
Almost immediately, Naylor moved his merchandise that hadn’t been damaged—about 25% of the total inventory—to Clegg’s. He also began ordering cleaning and demolition supplies from his supplier, True Value, and having them delivered to Clegg’s locations, which reopened within days.
Clegg’s, meanwhile, retained Naylor as a consultant and Drewes as a manager. The company is also working with True Value to assume Naylor’s license as a dealership.
The partnership is a fresh start for Naylor, though after four decades of running his own business he didn’t think he’d be working retail for someone else at this stage in his life and career. He has always been his own boss.
He got his start at Naylor’s as a teenager, crossing Government Street from Baton Rouge High after school to help out around the store. There were two locations back in those days, a second on Florida Boulevard. In 1970, his dad bought out Naylor’s uncles and the store technically became Naylor’s, though “old Baton Rougeans still call it Naylor Brothers,” he notes.
After college, Naylor joined the family business full time. But he’d been a horticulture major, and he always had more of an interest in plants and gardening than paint supplies and power tools, so in 1983 he opened the Old Hammond Highway location. It wasn’t a full-service nursery, but more of a boutique nursery with a specialty in plants and bulk seeds, and he became known in the area as the go-to place for top quality vegetables.
Naylor’s first order of business at Clegg’s is to bring those product lines and that expertise to the store, which has always been a full-service nursery but hasn’t been as strong in vegetables.
“It was our little niche and something, really, no one else wanted to fool with,” Naylor says. “So we are bringing that over here and hope to restart it in time for the fall planting season, which is coming up in just a few weeks.”
While Naylor’s will live on—in a way—through Clegg’s, the fact remains that a locally owned business that has been a fixture in the community since 1953 is gone. Gone, too, are its seven employees. One has found a job at a hardware store in Walker. Most of the others are still dealing with their own flooded homes and haven’t yet found other jobs. Some will be OK, Naylor says. Others will need to find work soon.
As for the old Naylor’s property, Naylor plans to sell it once he has a better idea of what the market is going to do. He also hopes to be a part of helping Clegg’s recover and come back bigger and stronger. Beyond that, he’s not really sure. He’s thankful to have made lemonade out of the proverbial lemons, but it’s not the ending he had planned.
Says Naylor: “This wasn’t supposed to be my exit strategy.”