Reed's Flowers. Photo by Krista Pirtle. Copyright 2012.
Texas Business reports: If you forget your sister on her birthday, you get a disappointed phone call. If you forget your anniversary, your spouse might send you to the couch, or the doghouse, for a night or two. If you forget your mom on Mother’s Day, well, that is just something you do not want to do.
Mother’s Day is the No. 1 flower-giving occasion.
For aged Harry Reed, the flower business is something he was born into.
“Wish we could take care of all the mothers but we run out of time,” Reed said. “We make the arrangements the week of. The items we deal with are perishable. Getting the flowers in, getting them processed, getting them made up and delivered all while they’re still fresh.”
Reed’s own mother, Blanche Reed, ran the shop decades ago.
Seated at the corner of Austin Avenue and 11th Street in downtown Waco, the fifties style sign attracts attention from the drab, neutral colored buildings surrounding it.
A green and yellow color scheme pays homage to the Bears of Baylor University.
Upon pushing the glass door open, the sweet aroma of flowers greets the customer’s sense of smell while the sense of sight is overwhelmed with the beautiful arrangements displayed on the tables.
Further to the right is a refrigerator with freshly designed pieces of work snugly placed in vases.
The back right corner has a pair of shelves full of teddy bears with an interlocking BU overhead.
Through a large window the staff can be seen hard at work in the back, continually improving on the trade they have acquired.
According to Reed, there is no manual to arrange flowers by. Creativity and a willingness to improve with each piece are important, as he has learned firsthand.
His uncle, Tom Reed, learned the flower trade from the Wolfe family in 1912 before opening the shop in 1930.
The fifth and sixth generation Wolfes, Tom J. Sr. and Tom J. Jr., remain in the business, owning Wolfe Wholesale Florist in Waco.
“I remember Harry Reed’s folks,” Tom J. Jr. said.
For the Reed family, their business began in the midst of the Great Depression and slowly gained strength despite the inability to import flowers by train. They relied on the roses and marigolds always in bloom in the greenhouse.
His father, Bert, was in charge of the greenhouse, which was located out by Lacy-Lakeview. They also had shops and greenhouses in Temple, Belton and Cameron.
Even with multiple locations, Reed remembers cleaning out and recycling quart sized oilcans during World War II by decorating them as vases for the displays.
But Harry Reed was not always around to help out around the shop or in the greenhouses.
From 1942-1952, Reed served as a pilot in the reserves for the U.S. Army Air Corps, based in Texas, Oklahoma and Colorado.
Today, the industry has ventured away from the greenhouses. Around 2000, Reed sold the family greenhouses to Tim’s Greenhouses of Waco.
“Operating a small greenhouse just isn’t profitable anymore so we’ve gone out of the greenhouse business,” Reed said. “Where we used to get ninety percent of our flowers from California, now we go to Mexico, central and south America and the rest of the world. Currently there are big greenhouses being built in east Africa. We also get flowers out of Australia.”
As flowers are being shipped to Waco, Texas, from exotic locations, one would assume that the rise of the Internet has made a positive impact on Reed’s business.
While it is no depression or world war, the Internet brings demands that are nearly impossible to meet.
“The internet has completely fouled us up,” Reed said. “I would not have believed it five years ago, but over half the people that call in have been on the Internet and picked out the item they want. They want it exactly like that picture, that color, that particular flower, not in bud but partly open. There’s over three thousand items on the Internet and there’s no way that you can have all the material. When you think about it, a florist in small town west Texas can’t have all these colors of roses and such. The Internet from my standpoint is just like drawing by the numbers basically. Making up arrangements to look like a picture is pretty difficult.”
Reed employs a staff around sixteen to make sure arrangements are made and sent out promptly.
While dropping various flowers in a crystal vase seems like a quick and easy task to the untrained eye, it is actually an ongoing process. When Reed is hiring a new employee, the one characteristic he looks for is a person who is willing to work.
“Nowadays people are lazy,” Reed said. “Let’s face it.”
With over a dozen flower shops in Waco, there is no room for laziness in the shop.
Back in the early years when Reed’s parents owned the shop, the main competitor was the Wolfe family.
“Our families did a lot of business together over the years,” Tom J. Wolfe Sr. said.
Due to different circumstances, the current competition is dwindling for Reed’s Flowers.
“Strangely enough, about three or four have gone out of business this past year where the owner died, or for one reason or another, went broke or something happened,” Reed said, giggling. “It happens.”
Reed is 89 years old.
When asked what will happen if he dies or is forced to retire, he answered that it would be nice to keep it in the family.
However, his two siblings, James Reed of Rockport, Texas and Dorothy Campbell of Cleveland, Ohio, have no interest in taking over the shop.
Retirement is nowhere close to a consideration for Reed whose fiery, icy blue eyes hold more determination than expected from a man a year shy of being a dime short of a dollar bill.
He reminisces of his parents that he lost in 1990, and while straightening his bolo that is fastened by a silver bear with a turquoise stone, begins to describe the beautiful arrangements his father would create for his mother.
Harry Reed would add a tropical flower, his favorite king, to the bouquet on Mother’s Day.
Shifting his eyes to the ceiling, he counts the days left until the biggest day in the floral industry.
“Everyone has a mother,” Reed said. “You better not forget.”