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Eagle Rock Disappoints Plant Nursery Owner

"Highland Park people are much better," says Echo Garden owner Hi Duk Lee. "We need customers from Glendale and Pasadena."

Hi Duk Lee—as straightforward as they come. Credit: Ajay Singh
Hi Duk Lee—as straightforward as they come. Credit: Ajay Singh
It's been about two months since Eagle Rock got a full-fledged plant nursery—its first in living memory—and its owner is more than a little disappointed by the business he’s been getting from Eagle Rockers.

"My prices are reasonable but Eagle Rock people are always asking for a bargain," says Hi Duk Lee, owner of Echo Garden, which relocated from Echo Park to 4515 York Blvd., a few blocks east of Eagle Rock Boulevard. Adds Lee, as if adding insult to injury: “Highland Park people are much better [customers].”

While positive news about the garden is spreading slowly by word of mouth, Lee says customers aren't exactly flowing in. Although he still gets many customers from Echo Park who used to patronize his old nursery, they hardly make up for the relative lack of business from local residents.

“We need customers from Glendale and Pasadena,” says Lee bluntly.

Running a nursery is tough work, and Lee does it almost single-handedly. Although his wife and daughter help out at the cash register and in the office, it’s Lee who does all the heavy lifting in the garden, which is located next to a proposed and highly contested 7-Eleven store on the intersection of York and Tonawanda Avenue.

“If I hire someone I have to pay $20 an hour,” he explains. “And he must know about plants.”

A Korean immigrant who came to the United States when he was 29 years old, Lee, 75, is a widely traveled man whose sense of world history and politics completely belies his blue-collar demeanor.

South Africa? Sure, he's been there—and he can argue authoritatively about how Mandela's revolution hasn't been good for the nation's economy. Japan? "Japanese are honest people, but the government is not," he says.

Lee does his best to keep customers happy. He serves them iced tea on hot days and is known to sometimes give complementary flower pots to customers he particularly likes.

Many of his regular customers are drawn to the wide and attractive selection of plants at Echo Garden. “I came to buy a flower pot but I found something else,” said Corrie Shenigo, a Mount Washington resident during a visit last week on Saturday.

Said Kristen Warren, a Highland Park resident: “I love it here.”
Anthony June 17, 2013 at 10:49 AM
Mr. Lee is a gem -- hope he does as well in ER/HP as he did in Echo Park. Great prices and just a wonderful gentleman doing what he loves and doing it with love. (This is, though, a somewhat oddly written piece -- as others have pointed out, there have been other nurseries in very recent memory in the area, contrary to what the article states. As well, the quotes from Mr. Lee don't resemble the gracious man from whom I have shopped many times.)
John Wayne's Honda June 17, 2013 at 11:39 AM
Hmm interesting article, but does nothing to sway me from Lincoln Ave Nursery
roland June 17, 2013 at 12:25 PM
I'm surprised by the article and its title. I live in Eagle Rock and work in Echo Park. I've been driving by the former nursery and I've seen the closing signs. I'm sure that guy had a hard time closing his former location. He certainly met customers who were there for bargains and expecting to get the best price on what was certainly a tough time for it. Now he's a new area and he's still going through a hard time, maybe resenting "bargainers". Have you ever been doing a garage sale before moving and seeing some people bargaining outrageously low on stuff that was pretty valuable? Didn't they look like vulture to you? As for everything, I'd rather share some empathy here. It seems he's not doing much advertising , he may not have realized the impact of some words thrown at a bitter time during an interview. I'll give him the benefit of the doubt and will stop visiting his nursery for sure.
Kathy June 17, 2013 at 01:54 PM
I had no idea this nursery had opened. I'll be sure to stop by. Also I've been meaning to stop at "Fusion", I believe the name is, to get some award winning onion rings. I think these two venues are clost to each other.
Joe Walker June 17, 2013 at 02:07 PM
The writer did not do their research when they said there were no nurseries in living memory. Mr Lee, do you really want to make such sweeping generalizations about entire communities? Ajay, inserting such hot topic issues like South African politics into a feature story about a guy trying to make a living is not exactly a way to help Mr. Lee.
marr June 17, 2013 at 04:33 PM
Unexpectedly having to move due to rent hikes has got be to be awful. Seems to be happening to a number of businesses these days. A corporate chain can afford to pay more than an independant business so they oust them. Starting over at Mr Lee's age must be scary & this transition time must be tough. It's hard to be pleasant 100% of the time when one is stressed. My first visit there, during the first month, I bought several beautiful flowers & all are doing well in my garden. 2nd visit I only bought 1 small flowering plant but it is also doing well. I have admired their jasmine vines & bougenvilla, so may eventually go back for those. I was thrilled they were opening here & I do hope they succeed. I dont know how much time the dgtr has to help, but maybe she could do some promo online. I would try to do a cross promotion with Swork or Coffee Table...give them some nice plants for outside their shop & do a coupon trade. They def need to push email sign ups & a suggestion box. They need to carry what people want.
Sara Petersen June 17, 2013 at 05:38 PM
I have been here a few times from what I consider 4 corners -house is 90041 zip code but across the street from mt wash & GP, up the hill from Dwntwn HP- due to word of mouth from Mr Lee's son. Mr & Mrs Lee have been completely gracious but certainly there is a language barrier which is a bummer, ice tea is delicious but I feel terrible about drinking from styrofoam, agree most succulents in unfortunate conditions requiring sometime at home for them to bounce back therefore not gift worthy.. I want to continuing shopping there but have to say this article is a major turn off. Please don't insult me or start a shitty HP vs ER war. We have plenty of problems in our world/neighborhoods the last thing we need is neighbor wars. Lame. I was hoping eventually someone would advice they use different cups or hire someone to separate their plants so they can be healthier and perhaps hire an assistant who speaks English better so we can communicate/build relationships. All other advice here is great. I hope they will take it into consideration. I'd love to see them succeed!
Kristen Bloom Dandurand June 17, 2013 at 06:02 PM
I have purchased from here, but will no longer be doing so. Back over to Pasadena. What a strange thing to say about a neighborhood where you are trying to attract people and not turn them off. Perhaps you did have a bad experience with a couple of people from Eagle Rock, but it wasn't me or even most of the people who bought from you from Eagle Rock. I cannot support you.
Bob G June 17, 2013 at 09:10 PM
Mr. Lee needs a new PR strategy. What adverstising has he done? We would love a great new nursery in the area. But, I don't wan't the first knowledge of a new business to be that we, as Eagle Rockers, are not desired customers.
Jimmy Iaei June 17, 2013 at 11:48 PM
That nasty 7-11 couldn't possibly help his business by causing people to stop and possibly visit his establishment. I'm surprised that his business is not booming because of the new bike lane that passes by. The Bike Nazis swore how good it was going to be for business and bring a new green lifestyle. Maybe all the hipsters from Hill Dr should just roll past Swork and bike down and pick up a potted palm or 2.
Jimmy Iaei June 17, 2013 at 11:51 PM
I also noticed what snobs many ER peeps are. ..... "Also, this article mentions nothing about his plant selection or related services, and he is freely insulting Eagle Rockers. I shop locally whenever possible but this is one case where I will gladly pass. Pasadena has some good nurseries and they are friendly and appreciative of their customers." "
eaglerocker June 18, 2013 at 01:13 AM
@Jimmy IAEI: Get your facts straight before attempting irony. If that 7-11 goes in, Mr. Lee gets kicked out. Read the linked article: He's only a placeholder so the building owner can make some money off the property. So he'll get no new business from your beloved slave-driving, Slurpee-pushing multinational. I don't believe Mr. Lee is the jerk this article makes him out to be. But maybe he is. How does he know which of his customers are from Eagle Rock? I'd like to read a Patch follow-up, now that this can of worms has been opened, and is threatening his business.
Jimmy Iaei June 18, 2013 at 01:51 AM
My my so intolerant my enlightened fellow ER's can be. 7-11's are a franchise so many are operated by owners and their families. Maybe papa is overworking his kids by making them have a job that contributes to their family. So un-American. Any whats wrong with a slurpee, or a latte for that matter. And whats wrong with building owners making money off their property? Do they have to check with you so you can decide if their business is good enough? Who died and left you god? Snobs and deserving of the title.
krd June 18, 2013 at 02:01 AM
I'm totally going down there and asking for discounts on everything until Lee's head explodes.
eaglerocker June 18, 2013 at 02:16 AM
@Jimmy: Read a newspaper. New York has a good one. Unless you equate being well-informed with snobbery, which I kinda think you do. That's an old-school Eagle Rock trait that I wish would go away.
Jeff June 18, 2013 at 09:49 AM
Maybe he meant Eagle Rockers just want to argue about everything (note above)
Picorian June 18, 2013 at 01:19 PM
Give the dude a break. I wouldn't be surprised if the old guy was misinterpreted. I hope things pick up for his family's shop.
Anthony June 18, 2013 at 02:00 PM
I agree with Picorian. Sad how everyone is jumping on a kind old guy who doesn't speak English that well. Particularly in the context of an article that has a demonstrably false factual premise (that this is the area's first nursery) it's likely these are misquotes. Give this place a shot...it's well worth it.
Elijah H June 18, 2013 at 06:45 PM
I agree, But even if misinterpreted, the rush to judgement and snobbishness of certain replies speaks volumes (e.g. "I shop locally whenever possible but this is one case where I will gladly pass." - you can just see the pearls clutched and nose held high there)
Eagle Rockian June 18, 2013 at 06:54 PM
I had no idea we had a nursery in Eagle Rock - how are we supposed to know it exists if there is no outreach to the community? I like some of the ideas submitted above. Like painting a fence or having weekly specials and a newsletter. I am concerned about the health and quality of the plants from former customer comments, though. I will go check out the place this weekend.
michelle June 18, 2013 at 06:56 PM
Agreed, give Mr. Lee a break. And since when did York Blvd become Eagle Rock?
Joe Walker June 18, 2013 at 06:59 PM
York Blvd was never considered Eagle Rock until the Neighborhood Councils re-drew the boundries.
Jimmy Iaei June 18, 2013 at 07:00 PM
New York Times article about east coast 7-11 stores means what here? Have you been to the one on Colorado you are hatin' on so much? I equate snobbery with snobbery - like those who suggest that the old Korean guy is not worthy because his English is bad. This is an all to recent trend in Eagle Rock that came along with the gentrification and hipsterizing of recent years.
Kathy June 18, 2013 at 09:43 PM
The fact that Eagle Rock is a nest of 'progressive and 'upscale' milleniums.......e-gad.....Eagle Rock never has been and never will be more than a back roads nowhere town. Eagle Rock will forever be what it is........NOWHERE!! For those who like it the way it is.....be happy and shop at Mr. Lee's. AND STOP THE STUPID BIKE LANES.
EagleRockMom June 18, 2013 at 11:42 PM
@elijah Feel free to spend your money where a shop owner has clearly stated he is not interested in your business because you are an Eagle Rocker. Mr. Lee has clearly made his opinions known about certain customers. If you are unsure of this, his exact words are framed and indicated by the use of quotation marks.
Hugh T. June 19, 2013 at 01:48 AM
People, Mr. Lee may have made some candid comments about his frustration to Ajay, the blogger on this site. I really don't think he meant to give a middle finger to anyone. He probably would have said things a little differently if he knew the context in which they would be repeated. Give the guy a break.
Chris Kurtek June 19, 2013 at 08:53 AM
I didn't know about this Nursery. I'll stop by for a visit. I wish the blogger had told me what types of plants he carries, pricing, and health of plants, and things of that nature which influence my buying decisions. I'm really not interested in questions on his views of global politics and definitely not interested in inciting 'turf wars' (pun intended) between neighborhoods.
Elijah H June 19, 2013 at 09:54 AM
Again, the snobbishness, he said no such thing. He said that Eagle Rock residents drive a hard bargain and Highland Park residents don't If that offends you, you might be too easily offended - and by might be, I mean are certainly. Quote me on that.
Roger Lee June 21, 2013 at 02:38 AM
Well now that we have your attention.... First, I would like to apologize to anyone who we might have offended. Our father often comes off as being rude by the crude comments he makes, but communication is difficult as English is his second language. I ask that you please be civil in your words and actions as he is a father and husband to those that love him. Second, to know our father is to either love him or hate him, which I have struggled with in our relationship. But to hear it from a third party is unfair, so I ask that you base your opinions on your own judgement and keep your opinions to yourself. If you take a moment to research my father, you will discover that he has done a lot for the Los Angeles Community. This man has accomplished more than many have in their lives, and his nursery is just another one of his many career changes,...at the age of 72. He has built that nursery by himself, and we as a family do what we can to support him, so please be kind. If you decide to visit us, we hope you will realize that this is more than a business. My father has gardened his whole life and is passionate about what he does. Echo Garden is a very personal project of his and he has opened it up for others to enjoy. Thirdly, I do agree that the article written about father was a bit odd. It was clearly not about the nursery but about my father who may have said something to piss Ajay off. Their conversation must have been consisted of more than the three sentences that Ajay selectively chose to publish. I think this article was weighted heavily on his personal opinions of my father and used this as a platform for his personal attack. We hope you will consider coming by Echo Garden and see for yourself what my father has accomplished. It's more than just a retail store. FYI: check us out on Yelp.
Red Beard Station June 23, 2013 at 03:25 AM
Relax. What the hell is wrong with you people? Getting "offended" by a comment that pits Eagle Rock against Highland Park. WHo cares? Its an offhanded comment that means nothing in the end. What you should do is go and buy from him and show him what "offended" you isnt true. What is actually going to happen is that this guy is going to end up the victim of a horribly written article. Mentioning South Africa? REALLY?

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