Cofer’s: Growing with Athens for 100 years

When Hal Cofer Sr. opened H.L. Cofer & Company on South Lumpkin Street in 1922, he offered everything a farmer needed to grow a small garden or large acreage. Pictured above, from left: a customer, a bookkeeper and deliveryman Johnny Huff Sr., and Hal Cofer Sr.

At a time when many local businesses struggle to keep their doors open during the pandemic downturn, one family-owned business marks a significant milestone. Cofer’s Home & Garden Showplace turns 100 this year.

When Hal Cofer Sr. opened H.L. Cofer & Company (“Dealers in Seed and Farm Products”) on South Lumpkin Street in 1922, he offered everything a farmer needed to grow a small garden or large acreage, from farming tools and implements to seed and feed, and even baby chicks. Farmers trekked from north Florida to north Georgia to buy their supplies from a company they trusted and respected.

Cofer and his sons Hal Jr., Richard and Donald worked in the retail store and the feed mill. As agriculture became increasingly mechanized, they had to adjust their products to meet the changing demand. Tractors replaced horses and mules, and implements — plows, harrows and drills — were redesigned to work with the new mechanical horsepower. Farms began using more chemical fertilizers, hybrid seeds and herbicides. Cotton picking baskets were no longer a top-selling item; by 1968, 86% of cotton was harvested mechanically.

Circa 1951 on East Broad Street (from left: Bookkeeper Ida Bell, salesman and equipment maintenance man Hoyt Hamby, delivery man Johnny Huff Sr., and Hal Cofer Jr.).

The shift from farm to garden

In 1922, many homes in the South had “kept yards” — carefully raked dirt yards free of grass. By 1961, when Hal Sr. died, Baby Boomers and their parents were moving by droves into ranch-style housing that transformed outdoor space into living space. Lawns, shrubs and flower gardens replaced dirt yards. And the Cofer family business expanded to meet the demand, offering hardware, drills, hammers, individual seed packs, shrubs, and even pots, pans and pets.

“My grandfather and my uncles [and] my father changed the nature of the business to meet what Athens had grown into,” says current owner Stuart Cofer.

When Sanford Stadium began hosting football games in 1929, the University of Georgia purchased the field’s grass seed from Cofer’s. The company also sold frozen orange juice concentrate to the Varsity for their famous Frosted Orange drinks.

In 1993, Cofer’s again expanded its inventory and opened as Cofer’s Home & Garden Showplace in its current location on Mitchell Bridge Road. What began as a well-respected farm supply business 100 years ago is now a booming home and garden store, even in the midst of a pandemic.

Stuart Cofer and his son Stephen manage Cofer’s Home & Garden Showplace on Mitchell Bridge Road.

Moving forward while looking backward

Today, Stuart and his son Stephen manage the family business. Stuart says that he wants Cofer’s to “continue to evolve with the times, stay involved in the community.” Despite the pandemic, the company has continued to grow as more people stayed at home and invested in their living spaces. Today’s inventory now includes premium grilling equipment, outdoor living furniture, wild bird feeders, garden accents and lighting, as well as an extensive selection of herbs, annuals, perennials and native plants.

“If my grandfather could walk in here today, he would have no clue that this is the company he founded, because it’s not even close to what he started,” Stuart says.

Cofer’s has weathered the twists and turns of history, including the boll weevil, the Depression, wars and recessions, urbanization, big-box store invasions and a world-wide pandemic.

In February, Cofer’s hosted a kick-off event to celebrate their 100th anniversary. Guest speaker and Historic Athens executive director Tommy Valentine explained that “historic” generally refers to a building that is 50 years or older and still retains some of the original character. He noted, “Cofer’s is also historic. They have become as much a fixture of Athens as the streets, parks and historic buildings.”

Stuart Cofer speaks to an audience at their 100th anniversary kickoff event in February at Cofer’s Home & Garden Showplace.

>> See the kick-off event video to hear the back stories of Cofer’s history.

To celebrate their 100th year, Cofer’s will host a series of events, including an April 9 Spring Gardening with the Family event and onsite discussions, a summer garden harvest cooking class, a UGA football kickoff celebration, and fall harvest recipe sharing around a fire pit. For a full list of events and more videos about Cofer’s, gardening and landscaping trends, and the historic siginificance of the Cofer’s 100-year business, go to Cofer’s was recently recognized as the 2022 Small Business of the Year by the Athens Area Chamber of Commerce.

>> Related story: A tour fertile with ideas

Beth Warner
Beth Warner
Beth Warner is a shepherdess, gardener and writer who delights in sharing glimpses of life from her home at Sheepcote Farm.

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