EVANSVILLE – For decades, Joan Schmitt has helped local residents celebrate good times while offering compassion during the tough ones.
As Schmitt put it: "I marry them, and I bury them."
It’s all part of the flower business. And at age 90 – after working The Flower Shop on Kentucky Avenue for more than 60 years and running it since her husband Paul’s death in 1974 – Schmitt is ready to walk away. The property is for sale, and the business will close Jan. 30.
The Flower Shop has been at the same location near Bayard Park for 140 years. That places its opening only 12 years after Abraham Lincoln’s assassination. The business was owned by Paul Schmitt’s parents, Edgar and Mary.
Generations of loyal customers allowed The Flower Shop to thrive, despite being in a mostly residential area with little traffic. They are greeted by a spacious greenhouse, bursts of color, all sorts of seasonal décor, and, of course, those wonderful scents.
"We have always had a wonderful reputation," Schmitt said. "We did everything, a lot of the big stuff in town, and philanthropic things. We’ve had worlds of activities out here in our greenhouse. We’ve done weddings, we’ve done luaus, we’ve done rehearsal dinners.
"We do it all. Everything that connects to flowers."
Perhaps no business owner in Evansville loves her clientele as much as Schmitt. For several years, she lived in the house next door to her shop and hosted a Christmas Eve party. It would start in the afternoon and last through the evening, with guests coming and going at their leisure.
"They would look forward to coming for some Christmas cheer," Schmitt said. "A lot of them now are lawyers. Some came with their parents. That party was notorious, let’s put it that way. People still say, ‘We miss that party.’ "
"This place has jumped," Schmitt said, with a devilish smile.
Evansville attorney Ted Ziemer Jr. remembers the Christmas Eve parties well; he and his wife and son attended several.
"We would go about 2:30 in that afternoon, and she always had a beautiful hors d’oeuvre table, wonderful things to eat and all the drinks you wanted of any kind," Ziemer said. "And there always were lots of people there you knew. We had common friends. It was a good time. We loved it. We thought it was the perfect way to begin Christmas Eve."
The Flower Shop, Ziemer said, is always on point.
"It’s the place to get some of the nicest arrangements," Ziemer said. "Anytime we need to send flowers to somebody, that’s who we call, and it’s always beautiful."
Schmitt, though, said it’s time for her to go. She had no children, and there’s no obvious person willing to take over. Pending the upcoming closure, The Flower Shop is doing clearance sales.
The radiant colors within are starting to disappear.
"The scene has changed, the industry has changed," Schmitt said. "There’s not as many big weddings, or as much entertaining, big parties."
Hardly anybody wears corsages anymore, Schmitt noted.
"I’ve enjoyed it because I enjoy people," she said. "I like my customers, I like helping them plan for different events, whether it’s a wedding or a funeral. One minute you’re up, and the next minute you’re down in the business."
Schmitt said the low-traffic location also has become more of a factor in the last few years, although in business, "when you have a reputation, people will find you."
Schmitt will leave behind too many memories to count in a career that brought countless Evansville residents a sense of joy, friendship, comfort and peace.
"I’m old enough that I done customers weddings, their children’s weddings, and then their funerals in some cases," Schmitt said.
"When you live to be 90, you see a lot."