This week was the second week of my sweeps series, “Small Business Survivors”. My boss told me to find a small business that dealt with Valentines Day like a flower shop, so I did what the boss lady told me along the way stumbled upon a fantastic story.
I was actually driving around last week searching for a small business when I saw a brightly painted building at the corner of Desiard Street. It was like a ray of sunshine in what is otherwise a gloomy looking downtown filled with boarded up buildings. I immediately pulled over and to my luck saw the sign read, “Henderson’s Flower Shop”. Perfect! So I went inside and spoke to the owner and she agreed to let me come back the day before Valentines Day to shoot my story. When I went back the following week, all I knew about the story
I was shooting was that it was a second generation flower shop. I thought I would just talk about how they are busy getting all of their flower orders in because it is Valentines Day. But instead of the story becoming a generic “valentines day blah blah blah” type package, I soon found that there was much more to the story than what was on the surface.
The owner’s father, Bernie Henderson moved to Monroe in 1955 after WWII and started working for a popular flower shop in Monroe. He said the owners really took him under their wing and taught him everything he knew. But it was the 1950’s in the south and he realized the white owners didn’t treat the black customers the same way as the white ones. He says that whenever a black customer ordered flowers the owner would pick out the oldest ones in the shop. After witnessing this happen time and time again, year after year, Bernie knew he had to do something. It was time for Monroe to have their first black florist and Bernie was determined that that florist would be him. He worked hard to pass the florist certification test at LSU and then sold his car to finance his shop. Then in 1962, he opened the doors to Henderson’s Flower Shop, he ran the shop with his wife for decades. Bernie said the motivation to keep the shop going was to finance his children’s education so they wouldn’t have to get student loans. His business thrived for decades, even after the big box stores moved in and flowers for cheaper prices.
Bernie’s daughter Sheila always watched her parents make flowers at the shop, but never planned on taking over the business. She went to college and jumped into the corporate world spending nearly two decades doing administrative work. But when the Great Recession hit, she was laid off. Sheila bounced from job to job after that but nothing ever melded together quite right. Meanwhile, Bernie was getting older and was slowing down at the shop. When her father was suddenly stricken with sickness, the answer to her job problem was staring right at her….she would take over the family business. She feels that her job misfortunes was God telling her the path he laid out for her. For the past six years she has taken the helm of the ship allowing her father to retire three years ago. Now Sheila’s immediate family helps with the shop to supply the flowers that the shop’s customers have known and loved for generations.
I love this story. It just reinforces my belief that everybody has a story. I mean who knew that by just wandering into that brightly colored building, I would be standing in the first black florist in Monroe’s shop? Incredible.
I had a lot of fun shooting the story, the family was so welcoming to me that after hanging out with them for an hour they said, “We feel like you’re part of the family now!” This is one of the aspects I love the most about being a reporter, learning and telling other people’s stories.
Here it is: