While “chalet” typically evokes images of après ski in Gstaad, for North Shore residents the word brings to mind something greener; something far more welcoming. We think Chalet with a capital C: one of the most beloved businesses in the community.
Now entering its centennial year and securing its spot as one of the longest-running and most successful family owned garden and landscape businesses in the country, Wilmette’s award-winning Chalet is celebrating 100 years in operation with panache.
The celebration kicked off in January with its “Legacy Tree” program, putting down roots for the next 100 years through planting how-tos and health recommendations for these hopeful saplings. An exclusive line of dedication trees will also be available—complete with certificates of commemoration—to families with babies born this year. While looking back at its past, Chalet clearly has an eye to the future.
Throughout April, in addition to spectacular celebrations for Earth Day and Arbor Day, Chalet welcomes its 100th growing season with a “Cent’sational Spring Preview,” featuring how-to workshops and enticing promotions and discounts just in time for spring planting. A “Scentimental Memories” program will feature fragrant plants, trees, and shrubs, including viburnum, lilacs, magnolias, and lilies.
And the festivities continue all year long in honor of this milestone, with a community ice cream social in July, a Bulb Festival in September, and its signature holiday events and free activities for children, families, and adults in November and December. Throughout 2017, Chalet is giving back to the community by supporting local charities as part of its company-wide volunteer day, its ongoing pet adoption events, and partnerships with nonprofits.
Just how did Chalet become such a perennial part of the North Shore community? It all started in 1917 with L.J. Thalmann, a young man with a bike, a red wagon, and an enviable work ethic. Born in Wilmette in 1900, the grandson of German immigrants, Thalmann went on to graduate from New Trier Township Highschool and attend Northwestern University by night as he tended to his clients’ landscapes by day as the owner and proprietor of L.J. Thalmann’s Architectural Landscaping.
But the real turning point was in the 1940s when Thalmann showed true ingenuity in purchasing for the growing business a Swiss chalet-style restaurant (in the path of what was to be the Edens Expressway) with a $751 bid, splitting it into thirds, and hauling it onto his newly acquired prime piece of real estate. Due to zoning restrictions, business signs were not permitted, so the company’s ads featured the chalet as an identifying mark. It was only a matter of time before customers were writing their checks to “Chalet.” Always customer-centric, Thalmann determined that the public had already named the business.
Expansion continued, with Thalmann’s children, Larry Jr. and Diane, taking over the business in the 1950s, watching it double in size. Over the years, the name became synonymous with professionalism, quality, and, above all, community. Now in its third generation of Thalmann family stewardship, Chalet has cemented its spot in the North Shore and beyond.
“For a century, we’ve been part of the Chicago-area North Shore community, but even more importantly, this community has sustained us,” says Thalmann’s grandson and current principal, Larry Thalmann III. “They welcome us into their yards, gardens, and homes every day through our services and products. Like the trees and landscapes my grandfather first planted for families here, true growth comes with strong roots and careful tending.
We think 100 years is a good start.”
Sheridan Road wishes the Chalet, a North Shore favorite, Happy Birthday.