Before the Allen County Courthouse downtown was built, before the old City Hall building on East Berry Street was even a notion, before the Cathedral was planned and even before Lindenwood Cemetery took in its first grave, there was a florist in Fort Wayne called Lanternier.
Word has it that the floral business was started by a family from France, and it was at one point on Calhoun Street.
In time, Lanternier bought out a florist named Vesey and eventually it ended up in a little building on Crescent Avenue near State Boulevard.
If you never looked at the sign, you might not have noticed that it said Established 1854, making it just about the oldest thing in Fort Wayne since dirt and the occasional tree.
Late last month, though, the sign changed. The current owner, Nancy Molargik, thanked the townspeople and its employees for 158 years of business and bid farewell.
Hard times, competition and plain bad luck brought an end to a business that had been around since Franklin Pierce was president. There was a president named Franklin Pierce?
Believe me, I put my heart and soul into it, Molargik said, and when she finally had to close the doors, It broke my heart.
Molargik, who has been in the floral business for her entire career, had worked for Lanternier-Vesey for several years, even when there was still a Lanternier working there. Eventually she agreed to buy the shop because I didn’t want to see the name go away.
The timing of the buy – 2007 – was bad, though. The economy caved in, business slowed down.
The economy has been down for six or seven years, Molargik said. There have been a lot of repairs, and things broke down.
Molargik had to put a new roof on the building, an unwanted expense in hard times. Gas prices soared, making everything more expensive, including deliveries.
Throw in competition and it made things even worse.
Flowers are a luxury, Molargik said. I don’t think people have the money for flowers. They have to spend their money on what’s important.
The big-box stores and groceries got into the business, selling flowers for less and letting people buy flowers at the same time they shopped for milk and bread.
People go on the Internet or call 1-800-Flowers instead of using the local florist, Molargik said.
But Molargik hung on.
When it rains it pours, though.
A month ago, the cooler in Molargik’s shop broke down, and she lost $500 worth of flowers and then had to shell out even more money to have the cooler repaired.
And then the cooler broke down again. It was the last straw.
Molargik finally closed her doors, and after 158 years the Lanternier name disappeared from the floral business in Fort Wayne.
The sign is still there on Crescent, behind an auto repair shop. Someday a picker might find it collectible. For now it’s just a reminder of what is now just a memory.