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Family Business Celebrates 45 Years As ‘A Little Bit Of The Country’ In The City

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Sam Tall, right, looks on as his father, Bill Tall, speaks about launching City Farmers Nursery, Nov. 16, 2017.

By Tarryn Mento
Logo for K P B S San Diego


When most high school students would be worried about homework, Bill Tall was launching a business. He had just quit his job at SeaWorld and set up shop in a small lot owned by his father, where he sold firewood and manure.

“I would take the chunky stuff and put them in a flour sack from a Balboa Bakery up the street here. I’d get all their old flour sacks, put the chunky stuff in for roses and the fine stuff for lawns and gardens,” he said.

That was in 1972. Today, City Farmers Nursery has expanded into a sprawling property that boasts a robust inventory of plants, herbs, trees and flowers, and includes farm animals, a neighboring restaurant and a house that replaced the three-bedroom trailer where he raised his three kids. Tall and his family plan to mark the nursery’s 45th anniversary with a community event on Sunday.

Tall admits he knew nothing about running a business when he first started.

“I just knew you sold stuff and took money in,” he said.

But over the years, he said he learned the key was evolving.

“I got into hydroponics in the 90s — holy cow, talk about a business. I was probably the only store in San Diego,” he said. “But toward the end of the 90s, there started to be big stores popping up for whatever reasons. There was lot of them. I said, ‘You know, it’s time to move on and come up with something else.'”

That tactic has helped keep the place open for more than four decades, and he said he looks forward to the next generation of gardeners. He said he keeps ducks, chickens and goats, and other animals on the property partly to appeal to the youngest of visitors.

“Because where in San Diego can kids go in the city and see these without paying a lot of money?” he said.

Beyond what he brings to the community, he said he’s proud of the location in City Heights. The low-income neighborhood earned a poor reputation because of crime, but has grown into one of the most diverse communities in the region, which he said he celebrates by stocking or acquiring products that reflect the multiculturalism. However, he said he received a warning about operating a business in the area.

“I had an adviser come from a group years and years ago because I wanted him to give me some ideas and the first thing he said is ‘You’re never going to make it because you’re in this part of town, which made me think, ‘I’m going to prove you wrong.'” he said.

So far, he has, and soon it’ll be his son, Sam’s turn. After Tall was diagnosed with cancer in 2015, his son has taken on a larger role. He said he plans to follow his father’s lead.

“I think just being unique,” the younger Tall said. “We’re not here really to sell. I love it when people come here to check stuff out.”

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