In a back room crowded with bouquets and vases and ribbons, Jane Stewart dashes off instructions to employees: An order for a secretary needs a “nice bow;” someone needs wedding flowers and the bride actually isn’t too fussy about the kind; those altar flowers will be picked up on Saturday. The phone rings and a new order comes in.
“We’re so incredibly busy,” laughs Stewart, the owner of Smith’s Flowers. Work varies by season, but they’ve filled as many as 60 orders in a day, she said.
The flower shop celebrates its 125th anniversary this year — Stewart isn’t sure of the exact date, but she plans to celebrate with a birthday party for the community in the fall. A century ago, filling orders for its customers looked a little different than the three ladies bustling in the back of the Broad Street building. Pulling out a file of news clips from the shop’s history, Stewart points to old pictures of previous owners and locations. Decades ago, she remarks, it would have taken a month to plant flowers for a cemetery, and she can do it in an afternoon.
Founded by a German landscaper named Carl Hirsch in 1894 as Hillsdale Floral Park, Smith’s Flowers was first located on Carleton Road (then called Railroad Road). According to the Hillsdale Historical Society, Hirsch took charge of landscaping grounds for the Lake Shore Railroad Company, and his greenhouses were renowned in Michigan. A 1904 advertisement for the park boasts the “Largest and Best Equipped Greenhouses in this part of the State” and claims its carnations, roses, and lilies “are now sent over Every State in the Union.”
“When coming to the Carnival, don’t fail to bring in your girl and have a nice Buttonhole Bouquet,” the ad concludes.
The store has had five owners and five locations, Stewart said. Hirsch’s wife took over for a few years after his death in 1915, then sold it to the Smith family (who gave it the name it has today). According to a 2001 Hometown Shoppers Guide feature on the shop, the Smiths’ sold it to a son-in-law, Frank Coscerelli, in 1950, who operated the shop when Maureen Millies came to work there. Millies took ownership in 1979 and sold it to Stewart in July of 2010.
Over that time, the shop has been on Lewis Street and three different locations on Broad Street. Stewart bought its current building at 106 N. Broad Street around 2012, she said.
Despite its many moves around town, the shop boasts several mementos of its history: An original cash register, a large walk-in cooler, and a white arch, propped up in the window display, that Stewart still pulls out for weddings.
“I’m am so excited that the shop has been around and gone through trials and tribulations,” Stewart said of the anniversary, pointing out that Smith’s survived the Great Depression. “Flowers at some point are a luxury, not a necessity.”
Stewart herself came to Smith’s after the recession, when work in the automotive industry didn’t have a bright outlook, she said. She’d worked in greenhouses as a teenager and grown things in years since. She still grows the shop’s sunflowers.
Now, business seems to be booming. Weddings and funerals take up most of her orders, Stewart said; her favorites are for new babies. Mother’s Day is the biggest month-long season, while Valentine’s Day packs in the most orders for a single day. Stewart works mainly with head designer Carmel Wright and her “jack-of-all-trades” Tina Glancy, as well as a few others who work part time.
Stewart sources flowers from distributors in South America, Canada, and California. In the summer, she takes shipments from five local growers, three of which are in Hillsdale County. And she grows her own sunflowers.
“Quite a bit of our customers trust us because we know them and what they like,” she said, noting that she has a lot of regulars.
As she’s bustling in the back, a man comes in and asks for “just a bouquet of flowers to set on a table. Just need to brighten my wife’s day.”
“Let’s do that!” Stewart says eagerly, dashing to the cooler. In a few minutes, she has a full bouquet tied with a ribbon for him.
This type of moment is what Stewart finds fulfilling about her work.
“My favorite thing is giving joy to people, because flowers make people happy,” she said. “Making people happy fills my soul. And we’re doing a lot of the community.”