In a garden greenhouse in Jacksonville, the future of a florist has taken root

Ron Barber has been helping make Valentine’s Day special for couples for over 50 years.

“Yes, Valentine’s Day is a big holiday and red roses continue to be number one,” Barber said. “We will spend between 2,000 and 4,000 roses for Valentine’s Day.”

Barber is the owner of Barber Florist on North Main Street in Jacksonville. He started the business in 1969 at the age of 19 and has been supplying flowers for special occasions or ‘just because’ for over five decades.

Barber said Valentine’s Day remains “a man’s day,” meaning far more men order flowers to be delivered on the day than women. But this year there’s an added wrinkle, as another “Men’s Day,” Super Bowl Sunday, falls on the eve of Valentine’s Day.

“What’s it going to be like the day after the game when the men realize their buddies came over and tore the house apart, and the women are really excited,” Barber said. “A lot of men are pre-ordering flowers for Valentine’s Day right now because they probably won’t think of ordering flowers during the Super Bowl.”

Barber said Valentine’s Day orders are usually for a dozen roses, half a dozen roses, or mixed bouquets containing roses. But that doesn’t mean that all flower orders stay close to tradition.

“We sometimes get calls for black roses, we have a rose we can get that’s really dark, and then we add some dye to it to make it even darker,” Barber said. “Then we get these rainbow roses that are all different colors. The customer is in charge. If he wants something, he will get it.

Barber’s career began when he became interested in cultivation while working as a youth for Joe and Vera Cruzan at the Southern Acres Nursery in South Jacksonville. Ron and his dad Raymond built a little greenhouse in their backyard and started “propagation stuff”.

“We grew a bunch of geraniums and garden plants the first year, we didn’t advertise or anything, but people found out about it and within a month we were exhausted,” said Barber.

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The barbers built six large greenhouses and grew flowering plants to sell to local florists. At the time, barbers were selling chrysanthemum plants in clay pots to these florists for $1.75, but Ron soon discovered that florists were turning around and selling these potted flowers for $12 each.

“I was thinking, 12 dollars! It took us three months to grow and we only got $1.75 and they get $12! Barber said. “I went back and said to my dad, ‘we’re on the wrong side, we need a store.’ But he was really against the idea.

A day soon after, Barber passed a building on North Main Street that had been the first coin-operated laundromat in Jacksonville. A man was working inside the empty building, removing the last remnants of the laundry room. Barber thought the building could be turned into a flower shop, and its proximity to the Barbers’ Greenhouses on North Prairie Street was an added bonus. The man agreed to rent the building to Barber for $150 a month.

“I went home, got $150, came back, rented the building, got a receipt, came back and told my dad,” Barber said. “And my father almost had a coronary.”

Barbers began working on the building during the nights of September 1969 and Barber Florist opened in December of that year.

Ron and his late father decided to play on their last name, and the flower company logo featured a barber pole. This juxtaposition of “Barber” and “Florist” continues to produce humorous interactions more than 50 years later.

“Once in a while I’m going to cringe because someone will come in and say, ‘Do you cut your hair here? “, Barber said.

Barber has seen many changes in the florist business. In its early days, the walk-in service was much more important because a florist was the only place one could buy flowers. He also had regular customers who brought in baskets and asked that they be filled with flowers or made into arrangements. Today, many floral arrangements are ordered over the Internet, and Barber often does not meet these customers in person.

“A lot of times we get an order on the internet and someone calls an hour later and wants to know if it’s been delivered, and we haven’t even done that yet!” Barber said. “The customer wants his flowers delivered. That’s all they care about. They don’t care if you have to cross a stream to do it. They say “I want her to have these flowers today”!”

Barber said funerals remain the largest part of the floral business, generating up to half of his annual income, but they accounted for 75% of the business in the early 1970s. When he started in business, Barber rarely sent an arrangement out the door without a bow on it, but now consumer tastes have shifted to more natural arrangements with lilies, sunflowers, wildflowers and greens.

Most of the flowers Barber uses that he doesn’t grow himself are pre-cut, and he and his staff cut the flowers, put them in water with flower food, let them sit for a while. , then refrigerate them to keep them cool.

“Most people who get into the flower business who are young and just starting out don’t realize the amount of work it entails,” Barber said. “When you take an order, you are giving your word that you will deliver those flowers.”

“It doesn’t matter if you’re backed up and know you have more orders than you can ever fill, you still have to get that order delivered somehow,” Barber said. “And if the recipient is not at home, you must try to catch him at home.”

Barber has really enjoyed her life as a florist and can’t imagine doing anything else for a career. The first few years were tough, as he competed against three established Jacksonville florists, but Barber is glad he persevered.

“Some people would have given up, but I have a stiffness in my spine and I was like ‘God, I’m not giving up,'” Barber said. “Now I’ve been in business for so long that everyone knows me and what I do. The stuff I send is always the best. But it took a long time to get here.

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