By G. Michael Dobbs
SOUTH HADLEY In 1912, Reginald Carey bought a flower business from Joseph Beach that had been founded in the 1880s. In 2012, the fourth generation of the Carey family to own and operate the business will celebrate a century of service.
Seth Carey told Reminder Publications, the florist shop is the oldest in the state since it has been in business about 130 years in the same location at 300 Newton St.
In the era of the Internet, Reginald might have some trouble, though, recognizing how the flower business has changed in the past 100 years.
Reginald was the son of a florist in Bristol, England, who immigrated to this country in 1907 and was employed as a landscaper and gardener on large estates, according to in the “Encyclopedia of Biography,” published in 1916.
One of Reginald’s jobs was manager of the gardens at the estate of William Guggenheim whose family was one of the richest in the world at that time and whose many philanthropic efforts included the Guggenheim Museum of Art in New York City.
It was a job designing the gardens at the home of Joseph Skinner of the Skinner Silk Mills that brought him to South Hadley.
“He has attained both professional and business prominence and is but the morning of his career,” the entry reported on Reginald.
The Carey family business has changed with the times, Seth said, and now not only has a Web presence located at www.careysflowers.com, but also embraces all forms of social marketing such as Facebook and Twitter.
“Our Web site has made us a 24/7 operation,” Seth said.
He noted that long hours were common for years in the business as florists responded to the needs of people for events such as funerals.
Thanks to competition from Internet florists, the brick and mortar stores have declined in numbers in the United States, Seth said. Services such as FTD, which used to work with local florists, will send out orders directly and only Teleflora still maintains that practice, he said.
The competition with Internet businesses has resulted in his downsizing the shop’s staff and becoming more aggressive in his marketing, he said.
Because people are buying an arrangement from a photo on a Web site, Seth said the ultimate product might not be to their liking. He recommended that if a person needed to send flowers to someone in another community to seek out a local florist there.
Another change Reginald would see is the lack of greenhouses at his shop. A century ago, florists grew many of the flowers they sold and Seth explained that his business eliminated the greenhouses about 20 years ago.
Seth noted the greenhouses were built in the early 20th century at a time when fuel was less expensive. With today’s fuel costs, growing flowers in the Northeast is challenging. With the current trade agreements, it’s actually cheaper to bring in flowers from countries such as Ecuador, Columbia and Holland.
Another major change in the flower business has been funerals in which the calling hours and the service are combined into one event. This practice as well as the notation of “in lieu of flowers” in obituaries has made an impact on how people buy flowers.
Although for the first 75 years of the business after Reginald bought it, Carey’s Flowers was definitely a South Hadley business, but for the last 25 years the customer base has grown throughout the region, Seth said.
“We’re smack dab in the middle of the Lower [Pioneer] Valley,” Seth said.
Seth and his staff are now planning events for the anniversary year, as well as researching exactly when Reginald bought the business.
As far as the future goes, Seth noted the business has survived two World Wars and the Great Depression. He thinks it will also endure the current recession and the competition from the Internet.
One thing the Internet can’t reproduce, besides the personal service, is the aroma of flowers that is present in the shop.
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