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Central Nurseries Inc.’s Huge History Began With One Small Decision

Wed January 20, 2010 - Northeast Edition
Jay Adams

On a spring day in 1936, Alessandro Pagliarini, an Italian immigrant in the midst of the Great Depression, decided that he didn’t want to continue working for someone else.

Pagliarini was walking home from work, when he passed a group of new homes being built. The landscaper stopped and looked at them for a moment, then decided to approach the official-looking gentleman holding a rolled-up set of blueprints under his arm. When the man noticed him approaching, he asked, “Can I help you?”

His grandson picks up the tale: “My grandfather replied, ’Sir, I am interested in installing the lawn and shrubs in front of these homes, if you haven’t hired someone already.’ The man said, ’Sure, if you can give me a price by tomorrow and have the first house completed by the end of the week,’ ” said Steven Pagliarini, the current executive vice president of Central Nurseries Inc., sharing the famous family legacy.

“My grandfather said okay, and with that, went home to get a pad and pencil to start the pricing that night. The next morning, he gave the man the price and was told to proceed,” added the grandson. “He started that same day and worked 12 to 14 hours a day to finish the first house that week. He was officially in his own business.”

With the completion of that first house, the elder Pagliarini immediately realized that he needed a truck to be able to finish the remaining houses in the amount of time that was given to him.

“He pondered this dilemma for some time that evening and knew he was in trouble, since he did not have enough money to buy a truck,” said his grandson. “That Friday night, he struggled with this, and said, ’Well, I am going to sleep on it and see what comes to mind in the morning,’ since he was already so tired.”

“The following morning, he woke up renewed, and went right to work in his garage. He worked all day and into the night to finish his project. That Sunday morning after breakfast, as his family was getting ready for church, he decided to pull the family car out of the garage and wait for them to come out,” laughed Steven. “Well, at Mass he had to pray extra hard for his marriage to survive, since my grandmother wanted to kill him for cutting the back of the family car off and mounting a wooden platform to the back so he could carry plants and loam.”

Not only did their marriage survive, but Pagliarini also finished the remaining houses for his first — and only — customer at the time, a man who then became a customer for more than 40 years.

Start of Something Big

This was the beginning of the business that would support hundreds of families over the years and see its way through four generations of the Pagliarini family. “It is something we are all grateful for and very proud of,” added the founder’s grandson.

Alessandro Pagliarini founded Central Nurseries Inc. (CNI) in 1936. Under his guidance, the company prospered and developed during the 1930s through the 1950s. He remained active in the company until his passing in 1984.

His son, Mario, was active in the business from his childhood. In 1953, Mario assumed the position of president and administrative officer. He expanded the company’s operations, which included large landscape projects throughout the North Atlantic states.

With the passing of Mario in 1980, the third generation — Mario’s sons Paul, Steven and James — have strived to grow the company. Along with its knowledgeable and its dedicated staff, CNI has become a leading supplier of high quality plant material and landscape hard goods supplies.

CNI has long been nationally recognized as a leader in award-winning landscape construction, as well as a supplier of the highest quality wholesale nursery stock. Now in its 75th year, the CNI brand has become the benchmark of quality and service in providing heavy and site construction services, professional grounds maintenance, interior planting installations and maintenance, wholesale nursery and professional hard goods, landscape design-build services, as well as an extraordinary garden center.

The company staff consists of more than 100 experienced professionals and qualified work crews including landscape architects, civil engineers, project managers, horticulturists, estimators, buyers, expediters, accountants, sales personnel, heavy equipment operators, truck drivers, mechanics, irrigation technicians, masons and maintenance workers.

Success for three quarters of a century has been due to hard work and CNI’s commitment to projects and clients. Customers have learned that the staff is full of good listeners who can be flexible to specific job requirements and responsive to their needs. They have developed solid business relationships because of their attention to detail and commitment to giving customers excellent value for their construction dollars.


What began as a company that specialized in residential landscape installations in Providence, R.I., has diversified with headquarters in Johnston, R.I. and a wholesale distribution center in Chepachet, R.I.

CNI is now a full service company specializing in large-scale public and private projects. They regularly do work in Rhode Island, Massachusetts, Connecticut, New Hampshire, and have been out as far as New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania. Their projects range in scope from small to large (the current $610 million IWAY highway around Providence), from landscape services to full scale general contracting. They can value engineer your project for maximum cost effectiveness or they can design and build your entire project.

Much of their work is done at the public state and municipal levels for projects such as schools, roadways, bike paths, ball fields and parks. Their private work includes land developments, housing complexes, roof top gardens, retail centers, private education institutions, hospitals and medical centers.

A site construction division was successfully launched in the spring of 2006 to celebrate CNI’s 70th year in business. Based at the Johnston facility, the site division complements CNI’s other existing offerings. Services include site, utility and heavy construction for public works projects, commercial and industrial facilities, recreational and educational facilities, private developments and new building construction.

CNI maintains and operates its own fleet of heavy and light construction equipment including but not limited to bulldozers, backhoes, excavators, loaders, compactors, pay loaders, skid steers, hydro-seeders, mulch blowers, large-scale mowers, grounds maintenance equipment and dump trucks.

Crews consist of skilled tradesmen, superintendents, foremen, laborers, equipment operators, masons, drivers and maintenance specialists. Office support team consists of project managers, cost engineers, estimators, accountants and administrative staff.

The CNI Site Division has completed various projects for private clients, commercial developers, general contractors, hospitals, churches, local towns and state agencies.

Central Nurseries Tree Farm and Wholesale Distribution Center is one of southern New England’s top destinations for quality grown landscape material. Their mission is to supply high quality plants with unmatched service at competitive prices. The Center is sited on 100 acres of land just 30 minutes northwest of Providence and minutes from the Connecticut and Massachusetts borders.

The company stocks approximately 15 acres of high quality, above-ground material to choose from, including thousands of shade trees and flowering ornamentals, many types and sizes of evergreens for specimen use and screenings, with some spruce, pines, arborvitaes and junipers up to 20-feet, in addition to a full assortment of specimen ornamentals, conifers, shrubs, perennials, grasses and groundcovers.


The CNI Site Division has completed various impressive projects for dozens of agencies, companies and cities, including:

• Gilbane special projects

• Miriam Hospital

• E. Turgeon & Sons

• West Warwick Recreation Department

• Lusi Construction

• Roger Williams University

• The Foundry

• DIMEO Construction

• Town of Burrillville

• Fidelity

• O. Ahlborg & Sons

• Diocese of Providence

• Paris Construction

• Streuver Bros., Eccles, & Rouse

• Bacon Construction

• Brown University

• University of Rhode Island

• University of Massachusetts.

• Rhode Island School of Design

• Bryant University

• Wheaton College

• Town of Lincoln, R.I.

• City of Pawtucket, R.I.

• Rhode Island Department of Transportation

The company recently installed what was only the second Storm Trap underground water detention system, which also is the largest (431,000 gals.) in Rhode Island to date at Immaculate Conception School in Cranston, R.I.

CNI has grown over the years due to the diversity of services offered by Central Nurseries along with the high quality of work ethics and professionalism.

The New Generation

Third generation Paul Pagliarini is the president, Steven Pagliarini is the executive vice president, and Jim Pagliarini is vice president and director of nursery operations.

The fourth generation of the Pagliarini family is now working for the company in the field as a foreman, supplementing office staff and helping in the garden center.

Greg Pagliarini, Steven’s son, has worked at Central Nurseries in the summers growing up, and full time for the past 12 years, now working as foremen of a maintenance crew. Steven’s two daughters, Kayla and Megan, work in the office and the garden center during summer break from college. Paul’s daughter Gianna works during the summer months, part time, and his son, Nick, a high school student, works on weekends and during the summer months.

Some company members have been on staff for more than 25 years. The average employee stays at Central Nurseries for about 17 years.

This past season, 2009, saw approximately 130 employees working at Central Nurseries. That included office staff, garden center staff, the wholesale facility staff, the maintenance division, the construction division and interior division, along with mechanics in the garage.

So, what is most “central” to Central? Is it the service? The people? Is it certain guarantees of timely contract work or workmanship? All of the above.

“It is difficult to recognize any one person, as we believe that everyone involved is an essential team member, regardless of title or duties,” said the brothers.

They agree that from the mechanic who worked on a piece of equipment all night, in order to be used in the field next day, to the guys and gals out in the hot sun, or rain, working in the nurseries to dig and fill orders, to the grounds maintenance crews working hard to keep 225 “bosses” at a condo happy, to the office staff going crazy with the spring rush and the site construction crew working against near impossible deadlines — ALL are “Central.”

They are proud of their accomplishments, prouder of their innovations, starting with the sawed-off top of a family car, in order to build a foundation.

Together, the Pagliarinis continue to build and expand their family-owned and operated company in the true tradition of quality and service on which it was founded.

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