Oldest flower shop in Ames, Everts Flowers celebrates 100th anniversary
Everts Flowers in downtown Ames is the oldest flower shop in Ames and is celebrating its 100th anniversary this year.
“We’re the fifth owners. The business was started in 1922 by the Everts family (Ernest and Jennie Everts),” said Brian Smith, who owns the business with his wife Gina.
In the 1940s, it was bought by one of the employees, Odella McGowan, who worked for the Everts before buying the business from them.
“Then H. Newell bought it. He was Harold Newell but everyone knew him as H,” Smith said.
Newell started working at Everts in 1953 as a delivery person, Smith said. Newell bought the business in 1955.
In 1958, Newell hired Peggy Harrison to manage the store, and she bought the business in 1973.
Smith started working for Harrison in 1985 and purchased the business from her in 1997.
“Everts has always been bought by an employee. I think it shows the dedication of it and the enjoyment of working in it,” Smith said. “With Peggy and myself, I worked for her for 12 years, and then she turned around and worked for me for 18 years.
“It was so much a part of her life. She was 85 when she finally stopped working.”
Smith and Harrison worked together for more than 30 years and never had an argument, he said. They critiqued each other’s work and each made the other better at what they did.
“Peggy gave me free rein to create and be creative. She was a great mentor and friend. She was like working with my mom and was just two months younger than my mom,” Smith said. “It was just an awesome relationship, friendship.”
Everts is involved with customers through the spectrum of life
Everts is like a family – inside the store with a close-knit staff and in the community as it’s involved in the lives of its customers, Smith said.
“This business is unique in that you see the whole phase of life. You celebrate them coming into the world, then every happening — birthday, graduation, wedding, anniversary, death,” he said. “You have the whole spectrum of life that you see and you work with — good, bad, happy, sad, all those things of life.
“So you become part of their family, in a way. You learn their history and the things they go through.”
Smith grew up in Newton, which he describes as a smaller, rural town, and a sense of family has always been important to him.
“I think that’s also been important to the people who’ve worked here,” he said. “We hire a lot of retired nurses and teachers because I think they tend to be people-people.”
Harrison passed away at age 91 in 2020 and was like an added member of the Smith family, often celebrating holidays and special occasions with Brian and Gina and their three daughters.
Photos of the family as well as business photos are arranged in collages on large boards currently on display at the Everts shop in celebration of its centennial celebration.
Everts made ‘full circle back to Main Street,’ has had 4 shop cats
Smith moved Everts to its current location at 329 Main St. in 2002 from its former home next door at 412 Burnett. In 1922, it opened at 208 Main St.
“Then it moved over to Fifth Street, where the YSS parking lot is now,” Smith said. “In the '60s, it moved to the Burnett location, and then in 2002 we moved full circle back to Main Street.”
Window-shoppers on Ames’ Main Street know Everts as the store with a shop cat in the window. Over the decades, the shop has been home to four celebrity cats who are celebrated with photos in the store’s centennial collages.
Max, Violet, Daisy and now Remington have graced the floor and window spaces at Everts. Remington was a rescue from the Boone animal shelter, Smith said.
“When I went there, looking for a cat, Remington came up to me and put his paws up on me. He chose me,” he said.
Experience in the Netherlands preceded Smith’s work at Everts
After Smith graduated from Iowa State at age 25, he spent six months as an exchange student in the Netherlands.
“The flower capital of the world — it was awesome,” Smith said with a laugh. “I went to Aalsmeer and got to see the flower market there.”
Aalsmeer is the largest flower auction in the world.
Smith moved around the country during those six months, staying with a number of different families.
“I understood the floral market and the floral world better by going to see Aalsmeer. I also stayed with a rose farmer, so it was interesting to see how flowers are raised and produced,” Smith said. “Then all the different ways that it goes through the flower market: How they’re bought, how they’re sold, how they’re packaged and exported all over the world. And by 9 o’clock in the morning, the market is done. That was a really eye-opening thing.”
Smith had a job offer from Harrison before he left for his European trip, and the day after he returned to the States, he started working at Everts. That was in December of 1985.
“And I’ve been here ever since,” he said.
Everts has seen changing trends and inventory
Everts Flowers Home & Gifts has seen many trend changes over the decades, which have largely been influenced by trends in housing, interior design and lifestyle changes.
“We don’t see the formal entertaining that we used to, with a big, formal centerpiece for Easter, Thanksgiving or Christmas,” Smith said. “Now it’s more of a vase on the counter or the serving table. Entertaining has changed a lot so I think flower buying has changed somewhat too.”
In Europe, Smith saw people buy flowers more casually, almost as a staple purchase, with many customers buying a wrapped bouquet on their way to visit friends and family, or just taking them home for themselves. For many customers, it was a weekly purchase.
When Smith moved the store from next door, he bumped up his inventory of home decor, artificial flowers, decorating and gift items.
“I’d say right now, we’re about half and half, fresh flowers and gifts,” he said. “With Mary Kay’s closed and with Coe’s going out of fresh, it leaves us the last dog standing here, of the three traditional, non-chain flower shops in Ames.”
“I have three daughters, and I’m going to stay in business until I get them all married,” he said. “And none of them are married yet.”
Cursive writing, daisies are part of Everts’ branding
The white daisy has become the logo flower for Everts.
“We saw on some of the old stationery and some of the logos, there was a daisy. Over the years, it’s gravitated to the white daisy that we’ve incorporated into our branding,” he said.
The “Everts” as it appears on the exterior of the building and in the company’s logo was created by Harrison.
“Peggy started the Everts cursive writing. She had beautiful handwriting, so we’ve kept that,” Smith said. “We got bags for a while and then we stopped getting them printed, and she would just write them with a marker on the bag. Her handwriting was just beautiful.”
“She was such a big part of the store and the community. She was a very even-keeled person that knew everybody, was a friend to everybody, loved everybody, treated everyone fairly and kindly,” he added. “She was just a wonderful person.”
Harrison was with Everts for 57 years, Smith said, more than half the life of the business. Smith has been with the company for 37 years.
“So I’ve been here a third of the time, a big majority with Peggy. To be a part of the history of a business like this for so long is really special,” he said.
COVID created unique challenges
One of Smith’s biggest challenges in his 37 years with Everts was dealing with COVID-19 protocols.
“It threw a monkey-wrench in everything,” he said. “I was the only one here from March 17 to May 1 when the pandemic first hit.
“I had all the phone calls directed to my cell phone. I bought the flowers, I cleaned the flowers, I arranged the flowers, I took the orders, I delivered the flowers. I’d pull over to the side of the road if my phone was ringing and take an order, come back to the shop, make it and take it out.”
When the shop reopened on May 1, Everts had a fantastic Mother’s Day. It was a banner year for that holiday, and then Everts continued to see business grow.
“People had money from not going on vacation or being able to go out and do things. They’d been locked in their homes and they were tired of it, so they came in wanting to change this and that in their homes,” he said.
Then the supply chain became an issue as Everts tried to order things and wasn’t able to get them. California locked down at the beginning of the pandemic so flowers couldn’t be shipped from there. Everts pivoted to Florida-based flower growers.
“The demand for flowers went way down, and flower growers are farms. A lot of those farmers just had to mow their flowers down. Some of the farms came back and some didn’t, so there are fewer growers out there now,” he said.
The pandemic has had an effect on events such as weddings and funerals as well, he said. After large gatherings were prohibited for a time, things didn’t return completely to normal when those rules changed. There are more graveside services rather than large in-church services.
“I have found that when someone does pass away, people are sending flowers directly to the family’s home, which I think is kind of neat,” Smith said.
People who got married in small ceremonies are now celebrating with larger gatherings.
“It’s been a new thing — learning all over again,” he said. “But there’s a little more consistency now, but it’s still just different.”
Everts is having a yearlong celebration. Collage boards of photos are on display. A $100 gift certificate drawing is being held each month through December.
“People can come in and sign up every month as often as they want. No purchase is necessary,” Smith said.
Ronna Faaborg covers business and the arts for the Ames Tribune. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.