May Garden Center to close downtown location after 63 years

By Alex Nemec

June 20, 2019

 Mary and Mark May stand in front of their seed cabinet inside May Garden Center.
Alex Nemec/Enterprise Staff

OCONOMOWOC — May Garden Center will be closing its doors on June 29 after being a staple in downtown Oconomowoc for almost 64 years.

Owner Mark May said one of the reasons he and his wife, Mary, have decided to close up shop is age.

“I’ll be 73 this month and my wife is a few years behind me,” he said. “We just wanted to go from working 80 hours a week to 30 to 40 hours a week.”

The Mays won’t be leaving the community entirely; however, as they a plan to still run their business on the west side of town that does lawn beautification such as tree trimming and lawn mowing.

Over the years, May said he has seen a lot of change in Oconomowoc, including when there used to be lots of parking downtown in addition to the 180 businesses that lined the streets in the ’60s and ’70s.

“Now we have a myriad of restaurants and office structures,” May said. “We’ve survived on top-of-the-line customer service.”

In addition to his city changing, he said his offerings have changed as well with customers wants shifting to be more organic.

“When we first started out, most of the chemicals on the shelf had either a danger sign or a skull and crossbones sign,” he said. “Today, 90% of what we sell has a caution label or no label at all because they’re organic and safe.”

May said there wasn’t a defining moment he could pick out as his favorite, but he truly just loved his customers.

“Favorite part about running the store has been the people,” May said. “They are inquisitive. They want what’s best for themselves, their families and their pets.”

In his spare time, May has taught horticulture across the state, teaching as far north as Barron, over to Madison at the Garden Expo in front of hundreds of people. But May’s main location for teaching is out of Watertown as a part of Madison Area Technical College.

In addition, May talks on WTKM radio every other Wednesday from 10 a.m. to 11 a.m. about planting, insect problems, disease problems and how to correct them.

“We certainly talk a little bit about the weather,” he said. “How people can make small changes in their garden or in their planting and get much better results for it, doing it organically.”

May said he is going to miss the four walls of May Garden Center at 132 E. Wisconsin Ave. and that his time running the store has gone too fast.

“This is home. It’s going to be a big change for me, but my body is telling me I need to slow down a little bit.”