D. Landreth Seed Co., which was in danger of going under just a few months ago, may not be in the clear yet. But the 227-year-old seed house, the nation's oldest, appears to be steadily rebounding.
Barbara Melera, Landreth's owner since 2003, says she has raised more than $250,000 since Sept. 1, when she launched a Facebook campaign to sell enough 2012 seed catalogs - at $5 apiece - to pay off debts of about $425,000. She was ultimately hoping to raise $5 million to also cover interest, taxes, printing, and mailing costs, and put Landreth on solid footing.
About 32,000 catalogs have been sold, and Melera says she expects that number to hit 50,000 by year's end. In addition, she has received outright contributions, and about 100 customers a day are ordering seeds from the new catalog and from LandrethSeeds.com - at a rate of about $50 per order. That number is not sustainable; seed sales typically drop off as spring planting time draws closer.
"As long as the orders keep coming, and there's no reason to think they're going to slow down till mid-February," Melera says, "I think we'll be in good shape."
The crisis erupted after one of Melera's two major investors sued to recover her money. On Aug. 30, a Baltimore judge ruled in the investor's favor and froze the company's bank accounts. Melera immediately began fund-raising to try to persuade both noteholders to negotiate debt-repayment schedules, thus allowing Landreth to stay in business.
Attorneys for Landreth and the investor who initially sued are negotiating a payment plan, Melera says, but things are not going so well with the second noteholder.
And there are other problems, including a complicated dispute with the company that processes Landreth's credit-card transactions. This has resulted in more of the company's money being frozen.
But Melera remains optimistic. "There's no way in hell that I am giving up," she says. "I intend to work even harder to keep Landreth around and healthy."
David Landreth founded his seed business in 1784 in Philadelphia, and it remained in the family until 1942. By the time Melera bought it eight years ago, Landreth was housed in a warehouse in Baltimore; it was selling mostly grass seed and was down to about 350 customers.
Melera moved operations to New Freedom, Pa., outside York. She has steadily rebuilt the customer base and returned the company to its historic mission of antique, or heirloom, vegetables, flowers, and herbs.
Early on, every piece of equipment had to be replaced, Melera says, including phones and computers. That was expensive, but the deepening recession proved even more problematic.