Reigate Garden Centre will close in October because its surrounding land could be redeveloped to build hundreds of new homes.
Chief executive of the garden centre Gary Tiley, whose family has owned the two-acre site for 35 years, confirmed the decision to sell the site and has informed staff.
Mr Tiley, 52, who has managed the site since the early-1980s, cited the council’s proposal to remove surrounding land from the green belt as part of its draft development management plan, and declining trade, as the reasons behind the family’s decision.
While admitting it was “a sad day” having to tell staff that they will be without a job, he said if it wasn’t for the impact of the internet and if the business had the same turnover as it did before 2010, they would have turned down the offer to sell.
Mr Tiley said: “The other week I was round at a friend’s house and in her garden she had ornaments, fountains, benches and a shed that we stock. It looked really nice and I said her how good it looked, to which she confessed she’d bought it all from the internet and that summed it all up for me really.
“We had hoped to make the internet 60 per cent of our business like John Lewis but we haven’t been able to and for a while we’ve run the internet [side of the business] at a loss.
“If we still had the turnover we had in the 80s, 90s and 00s we would have turned it down but several employees agreed with us, they would have accepted it if they were in our shoes.”
Mr Tiley’s parents, David, 80, and Margaret, 75, took over the centre in 1983 initially to provide more space for David’s building company while being near to the family’s Reigate home. Gary was charged with running the retail part of the business.
Mr Tiley said he was unaware of the proposed green belt changes until they were approached by developers in November.
Land around the garden centre, including fields that are bordered by Whitehall Lane on the west side and Slipshatch Road on the south side, are currently within the green belt.
However Reigate and Banstead Borough Council’s development management plan proposes to remove the land from the green belt, with developers understood to be eyeing it up for hundreds of homes.
A public consultation on the plan is open until February 23 with residents able to give their views on the council’s website.
Mr Tiley said the family would struggle to sell the site as a garden centre due to only leasing the main car park area.
He added: “The land around the garden centre has had an option to develop for years but we never took that option as we haven’t been interested in selling up before.
“It has been my baby, my life really. For years I worked seven days a week to make it a success and we at one time had the highest turnover of any garden centre in the country per square foot, with six delivery drivers working six days a week. But since the credit crunch the last decade has been a real slog and we’d regret not taking this opportunity.
“When I was 18 I said to myself I wouldn’t be here when I’m 30 but the years have flown by. When we first acquired the garden centre for the first month I cleared all the old stock and month by month we built it up until our annual turnover grew from £95,000 in 1983 to over £4 million in the 2000s.”
But since then that turnover has been declining, he said.
Mr Tiley admitted telling the 25 staff, which has also dropped from the 60 they employed at the turn of the century, was one of the hardest things he has had to do.
Since first opening, Mr Tiley estimates the centre has employed more than 1,000 different people. No planning application has been drawn up but it is believed that the buyer wants to build somewhere in the region of 300 homes.
Mr Tiley added: “Some of our employees have been with us for over 20 years and there were a few tears but it’s important to say we are here for the whole season until October 31, we’re not just disappearing.
“Our employees will get nine months’ notice and a redundancy package. At the moment I am looking for a showroom to continue a smaller operation and have been speaking to a few [garden centres] but at the moment we are struggling to find a big enough space.
“Hopefully a small team of us can continue somewhere else as we have the expertise in the industry so it won’t be a total goodbye even though it will be a sad end of an era.”
Mr Tiley and his family will also continue to run a retail showroom at the Court Farm Garden Centre in Tolworth.