Timothy’s Center for Gardening has evolved over seven decades
ROBBINSVILLE, N.J. — Located on Route 130 here since 1965, you might say the scale of operations at Timothy’s Center for Gardening evolved organically over the years. Just as so many farmers have adapted their farms to changing times and trends, so have owners Vince Serinese and his son, Timothy.
Vince grew up on a farm in Hightstown and his grandmother’s farm was on a site where a Home Depot store is now, not far from Tri-County Cooperative on Route 33. His father, Tony, came from Isernia, Italy, near Naples, with his grandparents.
Vince went to Hightstown High School and attended a year at Delaware Valley University in Doylestown, Pa., before the call of the family farm brought him back home. When the current location first opened in 1964, the Serinese’s were just selling produce, grown on acreage behind the retail store and on another farm in Hightstown.
“At that time we were just selling local produce, we had a farm in Hightstown and we had another farm here and we bought in as needed,” from the nearby co-op and other farmers in nearby towns.
Asked why he left college, Vince said he liked being more active and working outdoors and having some extra cash in the pocket.
“We call this place the University of Timothy’s: Where you never graduate, you never get a degree but you’re always learning,” Vince said.
Serinese said that it’s been a long and winding road for the business evolving from a roadside vegetable stand to to a bustling garden center, all fueled by customer inquiries and customer demand.
“For the retail, we have 30,000 square feet under glass and then we have another 15,000 square feet under a wooden structure and we have another 60,000 square feet of hoop houses in the back to grow seedlings and flowers. A
ll of this comes from in back various points during the season,” he said while walking past the property’s many structures.
Serinese said that even back in the mid-1960s, Route 130 was a fairly busy roadway, as it has always been a connecting road.
Back then, he recalled, “when people bought produce, they bought dozens of corn and baskets of tomatoes and they did a lot of canning and froze everything, they worked on all this stuff at home in their kitchens. Over the years, all that has changed.”
People no longer have time or make the time to do much of their own canning of vegetables and fruits, he said.
“I think a couple of things happened: ShopRite and Acme began to carry produce year-round and their produce started to get a bit better in terms of quality, and of course we were always seasonal. When it got to the point where we weren’t selling enough produce to make it work, at the same time we started bringing in plants from the outside and that business was growing more than the produce business,” he added.
“From there it just kind of evolved. I tried a couple of landscape and nursery items, yard bushes and small trees, so they worked and we just kept adding items from there,” he said.
“From the greenhouses, mainly [the customers] want color, but even that has changed over the years, and now we sell a lot of large containers as opposed to flats. They want something they can take home in a pot and put it in the ground, or the ready-to-go large container items for the patio, the deck or the yard. We still sell a fair amount of vegetable plants the vegetable plants so that’s always been a core business for us.”
He noted his father Tony always had a greenhouse where the family was maintaining transplants for casualties in the fields in back, “but I remember we first started out selling geraniums.” He added he began working on his father’s farm in Hightstown at age 5, “and I’ve never had another job outside the farm.”
“Back then, my father and grandfather were able to just grow plum tomatoes,” he said, noting they went to produce buyers in Brooklyn and northern New Jersey “and individual homeowners back then would make [large quantities of] tomato sauce.”
“We used to pick 600 baskets a day and they’d all be gone the next day,” he recalled of his youth.
As Robbinsville, Hamilton Township, West Windsor, East Windsor and other towns near Princeton’s Route 1 corridor continued to grow, so did Timothy’s.
“I remember at some point in the early 1990’s, saying to my brother Anthony, what do we have to do next year to improve our business? We really didn’t have to do too much; it just happened, it was growing and we were carrying more items and one year just kept getting better than the next.”
“For vegetable growers, we sell a lot tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, zucchini, cucumbers are always a big item, and we sell a lot of basil. It’s been more than 25 years since we’ve sold produce,” he noted. He also said profit margins on sale of potted vegetable and flower seedlings are about the same.
“But we probably sell a lot more flowers than we do vegetable seedlings, as there are so many more varieties of flowers, a lot more options,” he said.
He credited his father for teaching him the flower business, “and I would say I learned mostly by trial and error. I would always ask questions and see what would work.”
He credited his wife, Barbara, now retired from Timothy’s Center for Gardening, his brother Anthony, still in charge of all deliveries and bulk materials, his son Timothy, the center’s namesake and general manager, and his two grandchildren, who represent the 4th generation to run the bustling retail stand.
Timothy’s Center for Gardening is closed in January, but open seven days a week the rest of the year, which does not end until Christmas, as they are selling decorations and Christmas trees up to the holiday.
Vince lives on site, in a house tucked near some woods several hundred yards back from the last of dozens of hoop houses. Part of his acreage is also adorned with solar panels to help offset costly electric bills.
Some hoop houses are devoted to vegetables and others to a huge variety of flowers. Of his core vegetable sales, Serinese estimated he and his crew grow about 25 varieties of tomatoes and 30 varieties of peppers.
Serinese and his son Timothy employ 20 employees at the center, and about six of them are full-time, year-round associates.
As with any larger scale farming operation, several factors make Timothy’s Center for Gardening distinctive.
“We’ve been on Route 130 since 1965,” Serinese said. “We’re a family-owned business. Customers know us by name and we know them by their names. We take care of the customer. If a plant goes and dies on them, we ask no questions. And I must say, we have very good employees very dedicated employees, starting with our cashiers all the way to the guys loading the trucks. They are all excellent people.”