Ben Palmer-Ball’s father worked his whole life at the family business, Palmer Products on St. Matthews Avenue. While Palmer-Ball loved growing up in the area, he moved to California to pursue a career in architecture. After living there for 18 years, he returned home in 1999 after his father passed away, to help his mother. Soon after, he began looking around for retail space in order to open a home and garden center. When his realtor came across a space that was familiar to him, he was transported back in time. Years before, he had grown cucumbers on the family farm, which he sold to Paramount Foods.
“The pickles would get huge overnight, so I’d pick them early and try to get them when they were small, and then my parents would take me to Paramount Foods to get them weighed and paid,” Palmer-Ball says. “My dad knew someone at Paul’s Fruit Market, and he asked if he would be interested in buying my cucumbers so we didn’t have to drive so far to sell them.”
When he learned that the space formerly occupied by Paul’s Fruit Market was available for lease, it felt like fate.
“I knew it was meant to be Digs Home and Garden,” he says. “It was kismet, coming back to my roots.”
To a certain degree, it was a natural career transition as he had always loved gardening.
“I love getting my hands dirty,” Palmer-Ball says. “My parents were big gardeners, so growing up I was an indentured servant. Dad got me out on the tiller, and I guess that took because it became a passion for me.”
After residing in California for nearly two decades, he had developed an affinity for year-round outdoor living.
“I appreciated how indoor living spaces flowed to outdoor living spaces,” says Palmer-Ball, who was driven to create a resource for others who share his passion for a personal outdoor environment.
He recognized that his vision wasn’t as viable in the Midwest as in other places, but he found ways to extend seasons through outdoor rooms, fireplaces, fire pits and heaters.
Palmer-Ball, inspired by a garden lifestyle company called Smith & Hawken, became a dealer for the company. This has increased his stock of furniture and outdoor living products. He also began carrying a wide selection of pots and planters, benches, dining furniture, and umbrellas.
Digs is now celebrating 20 years in business, and Palmer-Ball is proud of all the storms the store has weathered.
“We’ve survived the September 11 terror attacks, the economic downturn of 2008, and this global pandemic,” he says. “I think that’s a testament for a little homegrown retail outfit.”
He had just switched out fresh inventory and was gearing up for the Derby last year when many businesses shut down. His store remained closed for three months, but because he does business with so many designers and some of them continued to work with clients, they came into Digs to make selections.
“Our designer base helped get us through the months when our doors were closed,” he says.
Palmer-Ball sets up his furniture displays in ways that make it easy for consumers to buy items here and there, spending years mixing and matching if they so choose.
“Not everyone can afford to have an instant setting for furniture where they buy everything all at once,” he says. “We try to carry a variety of different vendors and collections, and I pick products that can work together over time.”
According to Palmer-Ball, Digs thrives on what he calls “the eclectic view.”
“When you’ve got quality pieces that will last a long time, you can add to them year after year,” he says.
Customers return to Digs time and again because they not only carry affordable products, but those products are also focused on the heartbeat of Louisville.
“They’re not the same things you’ll find in other parts of the U.S.,” Palmer-Ball says.
When he lived out west, many customers were concerned about cutting-edge trends and styles, but when Palmer-Ball is at market making choices, he considers what works best for his community.
“We carry different brands because there are different strengths to each brand,” he says.
When Palmer-Ball is helping someone with their house, patio or porch, he tries to first get a feel for what’s happening on the inside of the home, to carry those same colors, textures and design elements outside.
“You can always add pops of color or texture with pillows, accent rugs, or even pots and plants,” he says.
Because he was born and raised in the area, he cares a great deal about giving back to the St. Matthews community.
“We have such a loyal customer base, so when they give us opportunities to help them, I’m delighted to do so,” says Palmer-Ball, who regularly participates in school and neighborhood fundraisers. “We try to find ways to help people who might not have a big cause that would garner big dollars and sponsors.”
He’s supportive of Little League teams, Girl Scouts troops, the Red Cross, and other local organizations, often donating products or a certain percentage of profits and proceeds. In addition, he donated funds to support local artists who were hurting as a result of the impact of COVID-19.
“The arts community was hit hard,” he says. “We looked for ways to help out folks so we can get through this together.”
Palmer-Ball has always felt strongly that Louisville needed an arboretum or some sort of outdoor space, which is why he feels a kinship with Yew Dell Botanical Gardens, a 33-acre public botanical garden and horticulture research center.
“They’ve been so successful in building a great organization to support the grounds out there,” he says. “Because of my outdoor affinity, I’ve always loved that there’s that opportunity for folks here in Louisville to get that consciousness in the community about plants and landscape on everyone’s radar.”
Mostly, he is thrilled that he and his sales team have become friends with so many customers, some of whom visit weekly.
“Digs has that ‘Cheers’ bar feeling to it, where everybody knows one another,” says Palmer-Ball, who grew up on a farm on Westport Road and has come full circle – he’s living back on the family farm, in a refurbished barn that sits on the property.
“I made it into an apartment,” he says. “My plan was to move my mom in there, but she was having no part of it because she remembers it being a barn with tractors, possums, raccoons and birds.”
He’s happily moved into the renovated barn himself.
“When I built out the space I added a nice big porch, which leads onto a vegetable garden,” says Palmer-Ball, who owns a couple of hound dogs that he takes out on the family farm. “I enjoy getting out in the pastures, letting them run and soaking up the outdoors. I still love gardening and getting my hands dirty.”
Digs Home and Garden is located at 3905 Chenoweth Square in Louisville. For more information, call 502-893-3447 or visit digshomeandgarden.com.