By Claire Walla
When Phil Bucking started his gardening store 17 years ago, he didn’t just bring flowers and foliage to the village.
For as long as the Sag Harbor Garden Center has been around, it has consistently hosted an annual petting zoo to cap off the Sag Harbor Chamber of Commerce’s Easter Bonnet Parade, bringing rabbits, pigs, ducks, chicks and even llamas to the area so that bonnet-laden villagers and their children could enjoy Easter weekend festivities after their midday trek up Main Street.
“We clear away everything,” Bucking said as he stood on the porch of the old train depot — now the hub of his business — and swept his arm across the front portion of his yard space. Come Saturday, where now there are wooden shelves filled with potted plants, colorful spring buds and rows of terra cotta lawn ornaments, there will be a bevy of farm animals (brought to the East End by a group from the Cornell Cooperative).
“It’s a bit of a hassle,” Bucking said of the routine round of heavy lifting preceding the event. “But,” he added with a grin, “we do it.”
The bonnet parade begins in front of BookHampton at 1 p.m. and concludes a quick 15 minutes later at the garden center, where farm animals will be grazing, grilled hot dogs will be sold for charity and — of course — the Easter Bunny himself will show up for a photo op. In prior years, Bucking said the Girl Scouts were responsible for dishing up the frankfurters; this year, that service will be provided by a group of elementary school students who plan to contribute all profits to the village’s effort to restore the windmill at Long Wharf.
The idea for the Easter Bonnet Parade-and-petting zoo was generated by the Sag Harbor Chamber of Commerce in 1996. According to Bucking, a chamber board member, the events were established in an effort to stretch the Easter holiday back to include Saturday. (There is also an annual Easter Egg Hunt at Mashashimuet Park on Sunday, sponsored by the Sag Harbor Lion’s Club.)
Extending the weekend is especially important for a holiday like Easter, Bucking added, because most village businesses recognize the holiday and close-up shop on Sunday. While Bucking said he didn’t think hosting the petting zoo had a particularly strong impact on the garden center’s weekend sales — “most people are here just for fun” — he did say that the event itself has been helpful for the economy of the village as a whole.
“It kicks-off spring for everybody,” Bucking exclaimed.
Well, in theory.
This year happens to be a special case. The mild winter and early onset of warm weather brought spring conditions a few weeks early. This has already proven to be helpful for the garden business, Bucking said, as people are planting and pruning much earlier this year. Bucking added that the weather may prove to be good for business for the duration of 2012, as he predicts there may be an excess of weeds and bugs — both pesky problems that can be cured by products Bucking sells at the Sag Harbor Garden Center.
In addition to business benefits, Bucking continued to say that this year’s weather is a good sign for the Easter Parade and Petting Zoo.
“Last year was the first rain-out,” Bucking said. “And the year before that it was cut short — again because of the weather.”
So, from the looks of it, it’ll be sunny skies for parade-goers this weekend, which means sunny skies for Sag Harbor’s business community.