40 Under 40 The Class of 2013

Justin Pelis

Owner, North Country Landscapes and Garden Center, age 34

Pelis-JustinJustin Pelis was making good use of his bachelor’s degree in Finance and Economics from UMass Amherst at a Boston accounting firm, but something just wasn’t right.
“I found myself spending more time in Boston Common than in the office,” Pelis recalled, and he made a move to head back to school with the goal of spending much more time outdoors.
With a second degree from the UMass Stockbridge School of Landscape Design and Horticulture, he purchased what was then a very small garden center in Westhampton called North Country Landscapes. With just two staff members at the start of the Great Recession, Pelis grew the business to 11 staffers who provide high-end, luxury landscape-design plans that include rock formations, stone patios, and walkways with integrated gardens.
Targeting what he calls the ‘aspirational gardener’ — the client who wants more of an artistic, outdoor living-room area that celebrates nature — Pelis took advantage of trends associated with the recession that impacted his industry.
“People were staying home more often, not going on vacations, and willing to put $20,000 or $30,000 into their backyard, with a patio and firepit,” he noted. “Now, they’re spending even more.”
While growing his business, Pelis has also broadened his involvement within the community, devoting more time and energy to civic causes that he finds personally rewarding and important in others’ lives.
Watching his late mother, who suffered for years with multiple sclerosis, enjoy an active quality of life through the Stavros Center, he decided to give back to that organization in her name by serving on the board beginning in 2012. Meanwhile, his love of art, and his desire to help others appreciate what is in their own backyard, has kept him active on the UMass Amherst Fine Arts Center board and gala committee.
A frequent attendee of Northampton Area Young Professionals and Northampton Chamber of Commerce events, Pelis donates time to bowl-a-thons, golf tournaments, and nonprofit auctions, as well as donating birdbaths and garden-themed gift baskets from North Country Landscapes for raffles.
“I find it to be the cheapest and the most rewarding form of advertisement for my business,” he said, “and it feels good.”

— Elizabeth Taras