Van Lierop Bulb Farm and Gift Shop plans to close its doors for good on May 31.
For years, customers have looked forward to spring, when they can visit the gift shop and buy freshly cut daffodils, tulips and unique gifts.
But times have changed.
Owners Neil and Lore Van Lierop say people can buy bouquets of flowers at department stores, and sales at their location have dropped dramatically.
Van Lierop Bulb Farm has a long history in the Puyallup valley.
Neil started working in the bulb fields when he was 2, dragging hoes out to field workers so they could keep working.
“I came in the house at noon and took my nap,” he said.
He comes from a long line of bulb farmers, and he started to buy his own bulbs when he was 8
Van Lierop’s father, Simon, was 20 when he moved to the East Coast from Holland with his 16-year-old brother. They knew how to grow bulbs in Holland, and they both received a six-month visa to sell bulbs in the United States.
“They worked in the greenhouse in the summertime, and it was 80, 90, 100 degrees,” Van Lierop said.
Simon’s brother, Pete, wasn’t wild about the bulb business.
“(Pete) told my dad he didn’t come to America for that,” Van Lierop said.
In the end, Pete left and Simon stayed, Van Lierop said.
Simon met his wife, Beatrice, in Chicago and got married in Tacoma in October 1929.
Van Lierop said his parents came west because they thought people here knew how to grow bulbs.
“People said that the latitude and longitude were the same as in Holland, and they figured bulbs would grow well here,” Van Lierop said. “The bulbs were happy here.”
Simon worked locally for Ed Orton during the Great Depression, and there wasn’t much money to pay him, so he received his salary in bulbs.
“In 1930, dad loaded his old coupe up with bulbs, and he and mom sold them for a nickel apiece,” Van Lierop said.
They also were in the wholesale business with flower stands in Tacoma, and sometimes they received a call on Saturday that more flowers were needed for Sunday’s sales.
Since the Van Lierops didn’t have refrigeration, Simon and Beatrice picked flowers all night long.
In 1938, Van Lierop’s parents bought 26 acres of land for $26,000. In 1950, they purchased another 13 acres for $13,000, and they started the bulb business.
In 1960, 24 more acres came up for sale for $12,500. Van Lierop was 22, and his father was 60.
“I told my dad he had to buy that property, and he said, ‘No, I don’t have to buy it. You have to buy it,’ ” Van Lierop said.
Simon mortgaged 13 acres to Neil so he could buy the property, and they started to work together.
Van Lierop and his dad dabbled in the cattle business for a time, buying 11 head for $4,000 when they were selling for 40 cents a pound, but that part of the business struggled.
“Five years later, they went down to 20 cents a pound, and that was the end of the cattle business,” Van Lierop said.
Beatrice had an entrepreneurial spirit and opened the gift shop in 1969. They employed 70 to 80 people in the fields at that time, plus 10 to 15 in the gift shop.
At one time, Van Lierop owned 72 acres and rented another 100 acres.
“That was the height of the bulb business,” Van Lierop said.
But now he and his wife are ready to retire.
“In the early days, the money was good, but business has dropped off, and it is time to hang it up,” Van Lierop said.
Lore Van Lierop managed the field workers for years, and she ran a tight ship.
“People called her the German field commander,” Van Lierop said affectionately.
Lore said she will miss the novelty daffodils and being out in the field on a sunny day.
“When the sun is shining and I see Mount Rainier and I’m out there picking, I’m in seventh heaven,” Lore said. “No phone ringing, I’m relaxed and picking these beautiful daffodils.”
The Van Lierops said they will miss their faithful customers and the employees who work in the gift shop.
“The last eight years or so, we’ve had good employees, good ladies, and we’ll miss them,” Lore said. “We have had honest and talented workers and have been blessed with these wonderful ladies.”
Kim Goetz has worked in the gift shop since 2004, and she’s disappointed to see it close.
“It will be so sad not to come back next season,” Goetz said.
Everything in the gift shop and all of the farm equipment is for sale. Although the gift shop will close at the end of May, the doors will stay open until all the equipment is gone.
The Van Lierops said it’s time to move on. They hope to travel to Germany and Montana and relax.
“We have tried to be a plus for the community,” Neil Van Lierop said. “That makes us feel good.”
Their home is on the property that is up for sale. Van Lierop and his wife plan to live there for a while.
With a spark in his eye and his love for daffodils still there, Van Lierop said, “Who knows? If the property isn’t sold by next spring, and we have some daffodils, we might just open the gate and sell a few.”
Joan Cronk is a freelance reporter for the Herald.