Turning over a new leaf: Rufty’s Garden Shop has new owners

Published 12:00 am Sunday, March 26, 2023

SALISBURY — Late last year, Charlie Smith chose to sell Rufty’s Garden Shop after owning it for 30 years. Now the new owners are bringing in  their own energy that they hope will keep customers coming back.

In February, Candice and Russell Foster officially took over Rufty’s. Before that, Candice worked as a high school math teacher for nine years, eventually leaving to raise their kids and Russell was a landscaper. In the past few years, Russell said they wanted to open their own garden center. They met with owners of other stores, but it wasn’t until coming to Smith and Rufty’s that they found what they were looking for.

“It just worked out perfectly for us to take over. We really wanted to keep Rufty’s alive and not see it close,” Candice said.

The timing of everything worked out the best according to Candice. They acquired the store right before spring, which is the busiest time for gardening stores. To help with the transition, Smith answered any questions or remedied any concerns they had.

Candice grew up in Salisbury and Russell in Woodleaf, but the feedback from those who have stopped in to check out the new Rufty’s has still been a pleasant surprise for the both of them.

“We’ve had a lot of support here. If we were in a different town, maybe we wouldn’t have as much of that support because we don’t know as many people there,” Candice said.

For the Fosters, things have been hectic since they opened. “It’s exhausting, it’s overwhelming, but it’s exciting,” Candice said.

They have been cleaning and rearranging the store to try and make it their own. “Unexpected expenses” have become a hard reality for them, too. Russell says that they want to start carrying locally grown herbs and vegetables and have local produce like strawberries, corn and blueberries in the summer. Keeping up the same great customer service that people are used to is an important aspect of the store they don’t want to ignore.

“If we don’t have it, we want to find it for them,” Candice said. “We would love it to be like it was in 1960. People walk in and they have that nostalgia of the old store. There’s definitely some work to get it back to what it was back then.”

One of the inspirations for their Rufty’s Garden Shop is another business that shared its name, O.O. Rufty’s General Store, a Salisbury landmark that lasted for decades and still leaves an impression even though it has been closed for over 20 years.

“It was such as neat store. Everybody loved O.O. Rufty’s and it went out of business and people still talk about it. This has the Rufty name, this is the Rufty family. For me, it’s a way to keep O.O. Rufty’s alive even though it’s gone,” Candice said. “It’s like that old general store. We want to have a general store feel to it as well as the garden center feel.”

They aren’t done evolving with their own tastes and what other people want. Sometimes those two things intersect to the point where people will be able to walk into the store and feel like their suggestions are being taken into account.

“Many people have come up and said, ‘What about if y’all did this?’ ‘What about if you did that?’ And we love to hear that. We love to hear people’s ideas. A lot of the people’s ideas are our same ideas, we’re heading in that direction. It’s so great to hear people excited. They might see their ideas come to life here,” Candice said.

Even though they’re just getting started at Rufty’s, the Fosters are ready to carry out the values of operating a reliable store that people have been going to for a long time. From the looks of it, they aren’t too nervous about that.

“It seemed like I’ve always been here and it doesn’t even seem like it’s a new challenge. It just feels like it’s home in a sense,” Russell said.