End of an era as Belfast peace line garden centre close after 24 years
A garden centre that opened on a Belfast peace line is closing after almost 25 years.
Belfast Oasis Garden Centre is based in the Argyle Business Centre, situated between the Falls Road and the Shankill Road.
Terri and Joyce Mearns, who are both in their 60s, have been serving customers from both sides of the community for more than two decades.
But the couple have now decided that it is time for them to retire.
Joyce and Terri have three children, Jamie (38), Lydia (34) and Tasha, who turns 30 next week.
Terri and Joyce, who have been married for more than 30 years, decided to open their garden centre in May 1995.
The idea to open the centre was originally Terri's, and Joyce was a stay-at-home mum.
However, Terri couldn't do all the work on his own.
His wife would often pop down to the shop to help and it was from here that she fell in love with gardening.
She said: "I grew to love plants. I love gardening."
When the garden centre was first opened, Terri and Joyce were faced with some challenges.
The couple said: "We had some difficult times. We had so many breaks-ins and we had our shed set on fire. We have come through a lot, but we're glad we stuck it out.
"One night, we were watering the flowers along the Shankill Road when the Shankill feud was happening.
"No one apart from the British Army were on the street; they were on the corner armed with guns.
"That night, we were coming along the road with our trailer and watering cans.
"We were climbing up the ladder and watering the baskets, I think they thought we were mad."
The couple have made the decision to close the shop after they started to lose some customers.
They feel like people are becoming more interested in plastic plants - a route that they don't want to go down.
Terri and Joyce are kicking off their retirement by having a family holiday in Scotland and they also hope to visit their son in London.
When asked about the best part of the last 24 years, they said it was all about the people they met along the way.
"Meeting the people, customers coming in and out of the shop and having a wee chat with them.
"Some of our customers have turned out to be really good friends who we will keep in touch with, even after we close.
"People have been so grateful, we have had so many cards."
They added: "Serving both sides of the community and improving the area have been a highlight."
Joyce said: "The loveliest part is when you see the first wee flower start to bloom.
"We will miss when the weather is nice and sunny and we are down our plant tunnel."
Terri said: "What we won't miss is the snow and the wind damage.
"The frustration of the seasons and the weather."
Terri and Joyce credit the success of their Belfast Oasis Garden Centre to their unique refill service.
Joyce said: "We have a lot of loyal customers.
"They would leave their baskets and tubs with us and we would refill them and then phone them when they were ready.
"People loved our customer service.
"They we would just leave it with us and say, 'You know how we like it.'"