A customer last Friday afternoon told Kathy Wheaton, owner of Kathy’s Corner, that he was interested in one of several Japanese maples she had for sale. When he came back Saturday morning and found that the one he’d had his eye on was gone, he asked her why she had sold it.
“I didn’t,” she answered, puzzled.
That’s when she discovered that once again — the sixth time in eight months, in fact — her small nursery on the southern edge of town had been burglarized. The Japanese maple wasn’t the only item snatched, however. Also taken were several other Japanese maples, three magnolias, three dogwoods, several birches, dozens of pots of hydrangeas, pots of japonicas and more — all told, an estimated $10,000 worth of inventory.
Wheaton has been in business since 1970 and has experienced a lot of burglaries over the years. This one, she said, was the worst.
“This whole block was full of five-gallon hydrangeas,” she said Monday as she stood in front of an empty swath of landscape cloth.
“Someone essentially came in after hours and went shopping,” she added. “They knew what they wanted, got it and disappeared.”
The burglary took place toward the back of her property, where an old wooden fence separates her nursery from the parking lot at Island Funeral Service, her neighbor to the north.
It’s easy to see how it happened, Wheaton said. Someone likely pulled a truck into the funeral home’s L-shaped parking lot, where it was obscured from the street by another building, and gained access by removing a few boards off the aging fence and cutting the wire fencing she recently installed to better secure her site.
She said she knows she has to rebuild her fence, but it’s a costly proposition. On Monday, a customer gave her $50 — the first contribution to what could prove to be a community-supported effort to get a new fence erected.
“For a moment on Saturday, I was going to quit. But within an hour of somebody posting this on their Facebook, people started coming in and saying how sorry they were and was there anything they could do,” she said. “People just carried me emotionally for hours, and that’s what I needed to be OK.”
“People are amazing,” she added. “People are so cool.”
Last May, Kathy’s Corner experienced two break-ins in one week, losing approximately $2,500 in items and experiencing $1,000 in property damage; the perpetrators broke into the greenhouse that serves as her office, badly damaging the structure in the process.
That was followed by other break-ins, where she lost ceramic pots and other plants, she said. But this latest incident was by far the worst, she said.
She believes the burglars are in the landscaping business, took an order for an installation and filled that order by breaking into her place late Friday night or early Saturday morning.
The burglars were selective, she said. They didn’t just grab the first trees in the row; rather, she said, they took a couple trees, passed over some and took a few more. A few of the trees were 10 to 12 feet tall.
“I don’t think it went to this person’s house. I think it went to a customer’s house or multiple customers’ houses,” she said.
Ironically, Lisa Devereau, who manages Island Funeral Service, said someone broke into the funeral home Saturday night or Sunday morning but took very little. She doesn’t think the two incidents are related.
“My guess is that it was a homeless person looking for a place to sleep,” she said.
Devereau said she hopes to help Kathy’s Corner by installing motion-sensitive lighting around the funeral home, though she knows skilled criminals know how to take such lighting out.
“I’m not sure we’re going to help any, but that’s definitely my goal,” she said.
Wheaton said she plans to file an insurance claim and urge police officers to work the case hard. She also hopes for leads from islanders who know about major garden installations that involve some of the shrubs and trees she lost.
At the same time, she added, she’s not going to let the incident get her down. Wheaton gained some fame in the nursery industry last year when a heartfelt letter she wrote about her determination to remain optimistic in the face of financial struggles as a nurserywoman appeared on the front page of a national industry magazine.
Now, with colorful primroses covering her tables, vegetable starts on hand and pots of budding shrubs lining the paths that wend through her nursery, she said her resolve to stay positive remains strong.
“Business is improving,” she said, smiling. “I’m excited about the upcoming year.”