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A growing sense of community

Medi Car owner Debi McConnell sees signs of life in her new planter, and she hopes contributions from the community will make things even greener.

Debi McConnell and her employees joke that the giant flower box outside of Medi Car Automotive is more plant graveyard than garden, but it turns out that might not be entirely bad.

The big box McConnell calls the ark is helping her create new connections with customers.

McConnell, the owner of the downtown Rosemount auto repair shop, installed the 20- by three-foot planter this spring largely as a conversation starter. It would be something nice to look at, she figured, and something to talk about with customers other than the state of their broken cars.

But McConnell started her planting a few weeks early, and pretty much everything she put into the dirt died when cold weather hit. Instead of lush greenery she's got a big box of dirt.

The planter has still started conversations, though. And the lack of plant life has opened new doors with customers, many of whom have offered to bring in plants of their own. One customer has already brought in several plants that sit just inside the shops large, south-facing window waiting for warmer weather. Another offered to bring in onions.

When McConnell drove a customer home recently she got a chance to tour the woman's home and elaborate garden.

"It's bringing a sort of personality to the business and getting to know our customers beyond just their cars," McConnell said. "That's what we wanted to be. We wanted to be the personality behind the business and show we're humans. We care about them as a person and care about their hobbies."

McConnell said she might use the shop's Facebook page to promote the planter and offer customers money off their repair bill if they bring in plants. Once vegetables start growing, she figures she'll harvest them and offer them to customers.

Now she just has to make them grow.

"Maybe the caveat would be, make sure you bring a watering can the next time you come visit," McConnell said. "I'm pretty good at keeping things alive once they're planted."