With pending sale, closure on horizon for LaSalle Florists in Whately

  • John LaSalle, owner of LaSalle Florists, in his greenhouse Tuesday. The business will stay open until a sale goes through, probably in 2022, he said. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

  • John LaSalle, owner of LaSalle Florists in Whately, in his greenhouse with some starts. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

  • John LaSalle, owner of LaSalles Florists in Whately. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

  • John LaSalle, owner of LaSalle Florists in Whately, in his shop Tuesday. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

  • LaSalle Florists in Whately has contracted for a sale to Whately RE Holdings. The sale will go through once the buyer receives approval from local boards and the state Cannabis Control Commission. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

Staff Writer
Published: 1/15/2021 12:07:25 PM

WHATELY — After 86 years in town, a longtime family business is getting ready to close up shop for good.

But until that day — which owner John LaSalle doesn’t expect to happen for another year and a half, as the prospective buyers seek the necessary state and town approval and licenses for its plans — the doors of LaSalle Florists will remain open.

John LaSalle, the grandson of James LaSalle, who founded the business in 1934, explained that the group Whately RE Holdings, a newly formed entity, is currently under contract to purchase the two parcels of land at 23 LaSalle Drive. On the larger of the two lots — which constitutes about 12 acres of farmland and greenhouses — the entity is proposing an indoor marijuana cultivation site.

“I’m going to be 70 years old by the time this is sold,” LaSalle said. “I’m ready to retire. We’re flower growers as well as a retail flower shop. We’re kind of a dinosaur in the industry in that we’re one of the last ones that’s a year-round flower grower in the area.”

Between the economy and the changing way in which people buy things, he said it has become more difficult to make a living in growing and selling flowers.

“It’s gotten to be more than I can handle. It’s not profitable enough to hire enough people to do the work,” LaSalle said. “Labor costs just keep going up and up and up, and there’s the cost of transportation.”

LaSalle said he had the farm listed for sale on a small farms website for about two years before Whately RE Holdings approached him last March. Up until that point, the cost of repair and upkeep was too much for most interested buyers, he said.

The group’s operation — which still needs approval from the Planning Board, the Zoning Board of Appeals and the state Cannabis Control Commission — would begin as a Tier 1 5,000-square-foot marijuana grow facility that would be “progressively scaled up as needed,” Chris Cimini, a member of the company, previously explained.

Recently, the Select Board approved a host community agreement, which allows for up to 100,000 square feet of canopy, the largest amount permitted in Massachusetts (Tier 11).

“The greenhouses need a lot of repair and maintenance, which these people have the ability to do,” LaSalle said. “There’s enough money to be made in growing marijuana that they’ll put the money into the place. … So this 86-year-old greenhouse is going to be put back to good use, whereas now it’s hard for me to heat it to grow my crops.”

The second, smaller parcel of land, which includes LaSalle’s current residence, will be purchased by one of the partners in Whately RE Holdings and remain as a residence, he said. LaSalle added that the front field on the corner of Claverack Road will continue to be used as a garden for flowers and vegetables to “enhance the neighborhood.”

“I’m not a proponent of marijuana myself, but it’s a legal crop and they’ve got the ability to do the job,” LaSalle said. “It’s going to be a lot of work for them, but the profit is there for them, from what I understand.”

Although the shop’s closure is still likely more than a year away, LaSalle said the end of this chapter of his life is “bittersweet.”

“I’ve spent most of my adult life here, working,” he said, starting at LaSalle Florists with his father after graduating from college in the 1970s. “We’ve got so many good customers and friends that we worked with over the years; it’s going to be different, certainly. It’s sad we can’t keep it going, but it’s just the way it is.”

The flower shop is currently open Monday to Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Saturday from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.

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