Business Spotlight – Custom Grown Greenhouses
Known to those within the South side Gateway community as one of the quintessential locally owned businesses on Milwaukee’s South side, Custom Grown Greenhouses – owned by Paul Budzisz – has deep roots in Milwaukee’s Airport Gateway region (pun intended). Many of Paul’s relatives lived in the Polonia neighborhood of Milwaukee, including his parents, but moved to St. Francis just east of the airport in the 1950’s, where Paul grew up.
As we began our conversation, Paul gave us a behind the scenes tour of the property and his greenhouses.
Paul, can you tell us a little about the history of the property?
Custom Grown, now located in the 4500 block of South 6th Street, had many greenhouses located there since the turn of the 20th century, more than 100 years ago. Three brothers (last name of Budzien) ran the greenhouses. The surrounding area, as many people know, was called the Town of Lake.
There were originally 14 greenhouses on the properties but time took its toll on the houses and they were in need of some serious repair when Paul took over.
Some of the Budzien family still live in the older homes that are directly north of Custom Grown Greenhouses.
How did you get interested in the business?
I started out working at a greenhouse when I was in my teens. After graduating from high school, I decided to continue my education and began studying the HVAC trade. While I was going to school, I was looking for employment, and I joined up with some friends finding work at a local greenhouse near Layton Ave.
In 1984, I started my own business selling plants from a makeshift stand in a grocery store parking lot. By 1988, my wife Sue, her sister, and I continued to grow a business at a location near Armour Avenue. As word of mouth traveled, the business grew. In 1992, I talked with the Budziens and started leasing the greenhouses on S. 6th Street as I needed more room to grow plants. In 2010, I needed a lot more space, so I looked into how I could bring my entire business to the location on S. 6th Street. Since many of the greenhouses were in need of serious repair, I eventually took down all of them.
I was able to move my business and expanded from doing mostly wholesale business to add a retail location here on S. 6th Street. I purchased greenhouses from other growers in the area that no longer needed them and moved them to the location.
On a cold winter day like today, how does it stay so warm in the greenhouses?
I still use some of what I learned with my HVAC training to take care of the greenhouses when necessary. Much attention has to go into the repair and maintenance of these structures where we keep delicate plants and flowers. When the sun is shining, it is very pleasant in the greenhouses, even in the winter and we love to sit inside and enjoy the warmth. I do have a curtain that goes over the full length of each bay which keeps the heat in at night in the winter and in the summer, we use it to cover portions of the greenhouse during the day to keep the summer sun from heating up the greenhouse too much. Some of the greenhouses have plastic coverings which are replaced every 5 years or so, but the glass greenhouses we keep well maintained so they need little attention right now.
Why the commitment to the Airport Gateway area here on Milwaukee’s southside?
As a member of the local Garden District Neighborhood Association, I provide and often donate plants that beautify the area for residents and others, including planting annuals around the Green Corridor on S. 6th Street. Many of the surrounding municipalities are customers of mine, and I personally work with them to make sure they choose the plants and flowers that will not only beautify their area, but will hold to our Wisconsin climate. In addition to working with the Gateway area, I also work with the City of Germantown, Village of Whitefish Bay and, of course, the Milwaukee County Zoo and Wisconsin State Fair.
I also provide plants for fundraisers, sometimes upward of 100 to 200 plants, for non-profits to sell.
(Paul has also decorated The Gateway to Milwaukee’s annual Taste of the Gateway with an outstanding selection of plants and flowers.)
What do you offer in the way of plants and flowers for the public to purchase?
We mainly sell during peak seasons. We are not a florist but are a wholesale garden center that also sells plants to the general public in the spring and summer. We start the annuals as tiny plantings and cuttings, usually starting just after the beginning of the new year. They are then ready for sale in May.
We sell annuals, some perennials, bushes and other indoor plants and succulents until late June. For the rest of the summer season, I sell the remainder of my stock to what I refer to as my “honor system.” I sell a fair amount of mums also in the fall. Starting in late November, I sell poinsettias, wreaths, other ornamental plants and Christmas trees.
We used to have a separate tree lot in its own separate area on 6th Street and called it, “Three Men and a Lady” Tree lot, but we moved it to the greenhouse lot a few years back.
I believe my business stands apart from big box stores that sell plants and annuals. I enjoy giving customers personal attention and the convenience of shopping in the neighborhood, along with finding the plants that people have requested that aren’t usually stocked.
Paul freely gives advice on the types of plants to purchase as well as how to care for them. He hopes that the Airport Gateway Region will continue to be a beautiful area, and supports the Gateway to Milwaukee in its efforts. He is proud to be a part of the “Garden District.”
He ended our conversation on a positive note, saying that “though greenhouses are not as popular as they used to be, I still feel very fortunate to be able to do what I love since I was a teen.”
Paul and his Custom Grown family have the deepest respect and appreciation for the support his business receives from the businesses and people in our community, and continues to look forward to beautifying and serving the community for many years to come.
4507 S. 6th Street
9 a.m – 7 p.m daily
Sundays 10 a.m – 4 p.m.
Hours occasionally vary, so