by Janet Grella
Diane Herr Lorella and her sister-in-law and business partner Lisa Herr will be turning out the lights and locking the door of Herr Backyard Garden Center in Burien on Sunday June 17. When they do, they’ll be closing a very long chapter of the Herr family’s tradition and dedication to building and beautifying the Highline and Seattle areas and beyond.
Herr Lumber started in West Seattle in the Alaska junction in the 1930s. Prior to World War II, Diane’s grandmother Dora and her Grandfather Amos also started to manufacture wooden pop bottle boxes in their plant on Harbor Avenue in West Seattle. The war brought mass production of foot lockers for thousands upon thousands of US soldiers.
When the war ended and soldiers and their families migrated to the suburbs, the Herr family rose to the needs of these families and founded Herr Homes. They produced high-quality, affordable homes from after the war and into the 1970’s. They also started Herr Cabinets. The Harbor Avenue location had access to the port and railways and provided them with the ability to ship pre-manufactured homes throughout the Pacific Northwest and to the then-US Territories of Hawaii and Alaska.
It was the next generation of Herr sons, William (Bill) and Amos that made the lumber yard bigger and stronger. William had a little boom of his own after the war, producing yet a third generation to work in the Herr family business. The next generation includes Bill’s kids: Janice, Diane, Richard and Ronald. Janice had a career outside of the lumber/building business.
Once recognized as one of the “Top 100 Yards” in America by the late 1960’s, Herr had grown into 11 yards throughout the Northwest, including the yard in Burien. Plus, they still maintained Herr Homes and Herr Cabinets. Their Burien location had been a saw mill and lumber yard for many years prior to Herr’s opening of the yard. It remained a working lumber yard until into the 1990’s. The lumber yard sat empty until Diane and Lisa had a vision of opening a nursery in 2002.
Like most Herr family endeavors, it was a family effort. Starting on literally a green outdoor carpet, the gals relied on cousins, husbands, nieces, nephews, kids and sons-in-law to help sell flowers and plants.
“In 2002, it was just a big empty lumber yard at the time,” Diane explained.
After the success and fun in selling plants, Diane and Lisa decided to enlarge the business, and cleaned out the Plywood Bay and made it a retail outlet for garden supplies. With the “can’t stop there” attitude they next took on the development of a gift shop, complete with garden furniture and decorations as well as gifts and foodstuff. They even painted the whole lumberyard the barn red those of us in the Highline area have come to know as Herr Backyard Garden.
When Diane and Lisa retire, it will end a nearly 80-year run of Herr retail in South King County. Why retire? Since 2002 Herr Garden has enjoyed good years and bad years. They had it in the business plan that by now they would be off site managers of the enterprise, but many factors including Burien’s First Ave renovation, bad weather summers and a recession added up to bad news for the bottom line. There would be no rest for them unless they walked away.
And in their walking away, they hope to not have to take much with them. Their retirement sale includes 30%-75% off everything under cover (the Plywood Bay and Gift Shop) and new discounts and plant materials starting at 25% off. They are still bringing in annuals and perennial plants at a regular cost. They’ve got great values in outdoor furniture, and Christmas and Halloween are 75% off, including artificial trees.
What’s next for Diane and Lisa? Diane is planning a family trip to Germany and Lisa is planning her daughter’s wedding in August. They did warn, that they’d still be around! Like most people who love what they do, Lisa and Diane tell us that they’ll miss their customers and their plants.
“Working with plants is very therapeutic,” added Diane.
Herrr Backyard Garden will be open Wednesday-Sunday 10 am-5pm until June 17, when they shut it down for good.
Longtime shoppers, you’ll be glad to hear that Rosie the house bunny has been adopted and Sweet Pea the garden cat will be going home with Lisa.
If you have an interest in locating a business to this prime Burien retail location, you can call Lisa or Diane at the store 206-242-2014 for more information.