After 65 years, it’s time to freshen up a bit. While seven other neighborhood floral shops have withered away, Whitley’s Flowers on Lakeland Drive has blossomed. Thanks to some fresh ideas, the business, begun at the Kind Edward Hotel in 1947, is getting a facelift.
Back in February, Dave Whitley, son of owner Rob Whitley, and Dave’s girlfriend, Kate Thomas, began noticing the need for an update. “She would come in and walls were dark,” Dave says. “She wanted to change it, make it better and open it up.” Kate, owner of Little Things Studios, a custom stationery and paper goods business, felt she could lend that creative touch.
Rob allowed Dave and Kate free reign to step in. “I said ‘Go for it,’” Rob tells us. “I didn’t set rules.” The 58 year old has been receptive to a fresh coat of paint, new banners and some new products in the shop. “I’m old. I don’t have the “change it” enthusiasm.” Kate says they just started painting and hammering. “It was cute a long time ago but it needed freshening up.”
Kate says she’s not trying to take away what Whitley’s has been. “I don’t want this to not be a flower shop,” she says. “I’m not not trying to take it over, but I saw potential.” Walls and curtains had to come down, Kate felt, to best show off what Whitley’s is known for. “These flowers and plants are like a little garden and I think they should be prominent,” she says, pointing to an open space in the front of the store.
For Dave’s part, a Facebook page and web splash page were on his to-do list. A graphic designer employed by web hosting engine Word Press, Dave created a consistent logo and helped with advertising strategies. “He’s interested,” Dave says of his father’s desire to spread the message. “My grandfather didn’t believe in ads. For him, it was word-of-mouth. But Dad is more open.”
To show off the newly decorated space, Kate’s Little Things Studios, Kristen Ley’s Thimblepress and Grace Bateman Greene’s Peru Paper, will hold a holiday show at Whitley’s during Fondren Unwrapped on November 15. Kate’s vision is to bring the crafter’s website, Etsy to life on that night and, if things go according to plan, as a more permanent fixture in the shop. “That’s the vision,” she says. This will be Kate’s only Jackson show this season.
Rob’s parent’s, the late Harold and Anita Whitley, moved Whitley’s to its present location in 1968. Rob, who has a degree from Mississippi State in retail florist management, began working here “officially” in 1977 at age 21. He and wife Joan, a bookkeeper and shop “jack-of-all-trades”, took over for his parents when they retired around 15 years ago.
When BoKay’s closed last year, Whitley’s became the only cash and carry floral shop in the neighborhood. And Rob says they’ll be around for a while. “We’re not going anywhere,” he tells us. “I’ll stay until I can’t do it anymore.” As an artist, Rob’s specialty is custom arrangements. “You should see what he does with colors,” Kate tell us. “They are incredible and beyond gorgeous.”