Emily C. Roush
The Ashland Beacon
After 73 years in business, South Ashland Florist is closing its doors. Owned by sisters Mary Gifford and Donna Suttle, it was founded by their father, Ralph Childers in 1946. The business has remained owned and operated by family throughout its history and became an institution among Ashland’s small business community.
For Suttle, South Ashland Florist has been her life’s work. As a child, she grew up helping around the shop and began working full time at 17. Perhaps she was destined to work with flowers. “My mother told a story about how she potted roses, which was hard to do back then, the day I was born. She went into labor later that evening. She always said it was her easiest delivery [out of six] because she worked so hard all day on the roses,” Suttle laughed while sharing the anecdote.
Something Suttle will miss about running South Ashland Florist is the sense of community and relationships it fostered. The business has had an indelible impact on the community.
“We have employed hundreds of people over the years including many high school students,” Suttle said. “We gave them the chance to gain work experience and earn some pocket money.”
“Our customers were like family,” she continued. “We have a lot of excellent customers like Betty Jean Phipps and Steen Funeral Home.” One patron particularly stood out to her, the Community Foodland that was owned by now deceased Billie K. and Paul Moyer. “Billie knew the names and addresses of all their customers. If one had a death in the family or illness, a birthday, wedding or any special occasion, Billie would call us up and say, ‘Send them a bouquet.’ She did this for 20 years.” Suttle fondly recalled. Community Foodland became South Ashland Florist’s largest client at the time. Every holiday season the Moyers would send trays of cookies, breads, cheeses, and relishes as a thank you for making floral arrangements for their customers throughout the year.
South Ashland Florist also served as a gathering space for the community as well as Suttle’s family. “We have hosted many community functions and fundraisers since our building has a large workspace. We were able to have 400 people here for a fundraiser for Putnam Stadium.” She continued, “My sister and I are from a large family. We have had many Thanksgiving dinners with 40 to 45 family members here.”
There are a variety of reasons Suttle and Gifford have decided to close. According to Suttle, “for 73 years we enjoyed a fruitful business.” Yet she has seen many changes in the economy, like the rise of big box stores. South Ashland Florist used to supply flowers to many area businesses including Kmart, but larger retailers like Lowes and Walmart now supply their own. Suttle also noted the effect of losing her brother and business partner, Doug Childers, 23 years ago. “My brother was our grower. At our peak he grew 5000 poinsettias for just one holiday season and 3000 mums one fall. After he passed, we had to purchase our flowers. Buying them costs more money than growing them.”
Consumer choice and spending habits has made a difference too. “The floral business is a dying business. People don’t send flowers as much as they used to. Money is tight, and flowers are a luxury. There are also a lot more options for people today. Now when someone passes away, many people will send a nice card or make charitable donations in honor of the deceased.” These combined circumstances caused South Ashland Florist to make necessary changes to continue to succeed. Though their business is still fruitful, Suttle and Gifford decided it was the right time for them to close the shop and retire.
Both women have had long, successful careers at South Ashland Florist, but retiring is bittersweet.
“I started working here when I was a kid, and It is all I have ever known,” Suttle said. “There are just so many memories, I have never regretted a single day that I came to work. I have enjoyed it and will miss it.”