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Nestled in the hamlet of Bedford Hills sits the closest thing many local gardeners, landscapers and farmers will likely ever have to their own version of Cheers. You know, the place where everybody knows your name. But this place doesn’t serve beer or have a tall, rangy guy named Sam running the joint. Yet everybody knows the regulars, and for them, it sure feels like home.

Mill River Supply has been holding down the garden supply game on Adams Street since 1983. That’s when Richard Apgar, a traveling salesman of horticultural oils and fertilizers, purchased the store from the Dowd family. Apgar left his life on the road for the peace and tranquility of a store in Bedford, and to this day, he can still be found in the back office answering the phone and ordering inventory. But now it’s his daughter Lee Apgar who is the face of the store.

All in the family

Lee credits family as the main reason she has stayed put all these years. She grew up in Westchester, and she was 16 when her dad bought the business. Lee has worked alongside him from the very beginning. Her kids grew up in the store, chasing each other through the aisles and balancing on bags of soil and fertilizers. They’ve all worked there, along with their friends. To this day, Lee’s niece, Kimmy, can still be found behind the counter every Saturday.

But the Apgar notion of family doesn’t stop there. It extends to the many beloved employees who have worked there over the years. Longtime customers may remember names such as Ramone and Louis. Gary Rehm came back to join the Mill River family in 2021 after many years away. And let’s not forget the many cats who have been on the payroll. Lee says Freckles and Speckles were the customer favorites.

Family isn’t the only reason Lee has stuck around. It’s also the clients. 

“I love our customers,” she says. “I love meeting new people and seeing so many familiar faces walk in the door.”

For most customers, first-timers or regulars, they can sense Lee’s dedication from the very first time they meet her.

“Lee operates a congenial hub for local gardeners,” says local gardener Ellen Best. “Most popular potting soil? Best shovel? She knows who’s buying what – and why.”

Lee seems to be part of the place – she’s perfectly at home in the modified gazebo (which functions as a display area), check-out counter, cat perch and gloriously singular hat stand. She exudes a warmth and friendliness on the job that immediately puts you at ease. She’s humble, yet immensely knowledgeable. Lee even quotes her dad when asked about her motto for customer service: “You have a need; we have a source.”

That motto rings particularly true when you explore the nooks and crannies of the store. Long-time customers will tell you that they still discover new products and parts of the store on a regular basis. Mill River seems to have everything you could imagine needing for your garden or landscape. And, if they don’t have it, they’ll find it for you.

Growing the community

During the growing season, Mill River is a lifeline for local gardeners and farmers. But besides housing everything her customers could ever dream of needing, Lee offers her expertise, and her heart, throughout the community.

“We have a lot of non-profit organizations as customers,” she says. “Quite often, they’re buying things out of their own pockets for the classes they teach.”

“Take school gardens, for instance,” she continues. “They may have 20 children at a time working in the garden, and many times, they don’t have enough tools for all of them. The budget for these gardens is usually not enough, so I always suggest they make a wish list! I encourage them to make a list of tools they need or want, and I’ll put it on our counter. Many times, customers will purchase a tool or two, or they have extras to donate. They leave them with me, and we get them to the person in need.”

This article was published in the March/April 2023 print edition of Katonah Connect.

Photography by Justin Negard.

Leslie Dock
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Leslie Dock is an accomplished freelance farmer, gardener, permaculture practitioner and educator based in Katonah. Originally from Wisconsin, she made her way to NYC to pursue a career in acting in 2001. After 15 years in the city and numerous vocations, she moved to Katonah with her family and discovered a passion for agriculture and gardening.

“I feel so lucky to live in Katonah,” Leslie says. “We have access to a small-town community and communion with nature and one of the greatest cities in the world. The only thing missing is a killer taco joint in town.”