George Griffith thought he might have to sell – pare down his more than 50-year business and consolidate to one building. He wasn’t looking forward to auctioning off space that was so rich with memories, although it meant a narrower focus and less overhead. Even his 30-year-old parrot was put off – it cursed at the employees as they shuffled around packing up boxes.
But through a newly developed partnership with two longtime friends and employees, the owner of The Flower Barn in Westmont is able to keep his business intact.
Griffith told The Tribune-Democrat in early November that he was preparing to auction off one of his business’ Millcreek Road buildings and operate entirely out of the nearby Garden Center. A good portion of the Flower Barn inventory had already gone to auction on Oct. 26 – Italian glassware sets, $100 vases displayed at the White House and much more.
The property auction almost happened, too. After it was delayed, Griffith said he approached Joan Hoobler and Luci Wagner, who have worked for Griffith and his partner, Tom O’Brien, for a number of years.
“When this opportunity came up in my mind – that the girls might do it – we threw those other ideas to the wind. And they were very receptive to it,” he said. “We were thrilled.”
According to Griffith, there were five potential buyers he was dealing with before the sale was called off. Many of them had other plans for the historic greenhouses, which according to Griffith, were originally built in 1882.
The florist, now in his 80s, said he hopes the two will eventually take all of The Flower Barn, part and parcel. He said seeing the business pass into the family of trusted colleagues means continuing the tradition that started with Grandview Florist in 1885.
But he said his green thumb hasn’t faded yet.
“I felt that I’m yet capable. It’s not a matter of having to do it. I would like to have a nice transition,” he said. “The financials I’m not concerned about. It’s just the perpetuation of the business.”
Since The Flower Barn opened in 1960, Griffith said he and his partner have catered numerous large, colorful parties across the country, including about 30 visits to the White House. During the years, the bulk of The Flower Barn’s business has been retail. They also provide interior services for a number of office buildings in Pittsburgh, as well as Johns-town, including Memorial Medical Center.
When they first started out, Griffith said they grew carnations and chrysanthemums. He said people might be shocked to find no one grows those domestically anymore – not even roses.
He said he remembers, 45 years ago, paying 11 cents for a gallon of fuel, aside from “enormous” insurance bills for the heating system.
“That was even a concern (then),” he said. “Now, you pay over $3 a gallon. And these are big structures.”
Earlier in the month, Griffith said he planned to make his greenhouses “greener” – that is, more economically sound.
“We’re having more ecologically correct greenhouses so that we don’t throw the heat into the sky.”
The deal is still evolving, according to Griffith, but he said he’s excited to see what Hoobler and Wagner might do with the place.
“They bring with (them) a lot of style.”
Justin Dennis is a multimedia reporter for The Tribune-Democrat. Follow him on Twitter at www.Twitter.com/JustinDennis.