Popular Port Coquitlam garden centre to close after 30 years

Wim Vander Zalm getting ready to shut down Art Knapp as he transitions to a new life without his long-standing business

An iconic Port Coquitlam garden centre is closing after more than 30 years in the Tri-Cities, meaning residents may have to go further afield to get their grass seed, flowering shrubs and annuals.

Today in The Tri-City News, Wim and Rose Vander Zalm announced the closure of Art Knapp and reminisced over decades of serving customers with a Christmas wonderland, a Halloween hay maze, which supported a community fundraiser, Funland and a well-stocked nursery and gift and clothing shop.

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The property, located on 3.3 acres at 1300 Dominion Ave., has been sold and Art Knapp has until Dec. 31 to sell out its inventory and close down for good.

When the doors are shut, 15 staff, some of whom have worked at the PoCo nursery for decades, will be saying good bye, some moving into retirement, others getting professional help with resumes.

But none are more wistful about the looming shut down than Wim Vander Zalm himself, who recalls living in an apartment in the garden centre when he purchased it in 1989 in what was then mostly farmland.

The garden centre at 1300 Dominion Ave. in Port Coquitlam
The garden centre at 1300 Dominion Ave. in Port Coquitlam has been sold but the store will stay open until the end of the year. - Mario Bartel

“I had to live there,” said Vander Zalm in an interview with The Tri-City News. “I couldn’t afford anything else.”

He recalls the early days when the day’s winter sales would amount to $20 and he would come and go in the foggy dark and remembers thinking “Maybe this isn’t such a good idea.”

But over the years, the business grew along with Metro Vancouver’s enthusiasm for growing plants, with two stores in Vancouver, one in Burnaby and another in Port Moody, in addition to the PoCo shop, which is the only one he still owns.

Acknowledging the the closure is a “loss,” Vander Zalm said he will miss dispensing garden advice, along with an extensive variety of plants, and helping hundreds of groups that have come to him for a donation for their club, team, or other organization.

“So much has happened,” he said. “So many different memories, new customers and old customers. you get to know them as family.”

Over the years ,Vander Zalm, whose father, Bill, was a prominent B.C. gardener and premier, is well known for dispensing wisdom on everything from how to manage chafer beetles to growing plants during seasons of drought, cold and even a pandemic.

In fact, in 2013 Vander Zalm penned a garden book titled Just Ask Wim!: Down-to-Earth Gardening Answers. 

In recent years, the store faced challenges with the city of Port Coquitlam over alleged safety concerns, with the popular Funland and clothing store shut down.

However, Vander Zalm always maintained the building was safe under BC Safety Authority and WorkSafeBC guidelines.

Meanwhile, he still sees a future in selling plants and garden materials, although with his children interested in growing plants, he may move towards more of a nursery operation.

As the long-time horticulturalist notes, people love their gardens, and he sees the possibility of starting a garden centre somewhere else in the Tri-Cities if he can find an affordable piece of land.

With vegetable prices rising and the pandemic raising supply chain concerns, growing a vegetable garden has become a popular pursuit with Art Knapp experiencing a tripling of sales in vegetable seedlings.

Vander Zalm expects people will continue to sow their own gardens in years to come.

“Once they start, they’ll find they want to continue growing their own vegetables,” said Vander Zalm. “They’ll enjoy their successes and even if they have failures, they’ll learn from them.”

As the store shuts down in six months, much of the community will remember Art Knapp as a place to go for garden advice, plants, and gifts, as well as generosity, including hundreds of seniors who benefited from donated flowers in the Blooms to Rooms program.

Vander Zalm hopes to see his customers back in the coming days as merchandise continues to flow in for plants, gifts and Christmas ornaments and is looking forward to reminiscing about the past with those he’s known over the years.

“I hope we’ve done everything we could to serve the needs of the community,” Vander Zalm said.

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