News From Terre Haute, Indiana

March 2, 2013

150 & Counting: When the Heinl family started selling flowers, the Civil War was under way

Shop has stood at Seventh and Walnut for more than 100 years

Arthur Foulkes
The Tribune-Star

TERRE HAUTE — It’s likely that grieving widows of Civil War casualties were given flowers grown and sold by the Heinl family of Terre Haute. In later decades, Heinl flowers likely adorned the weddings or funerals of those who would fight in World War I and later in World War II, Vietnam, Korea, the Middle East and Afghanistan.

In short, Heinl’s has been around a while.

Heinl’s Flower Shop “is one of the oldest flower shops in the Midwest,” said Pastor Larry Reck, who emceed Friday’s 150th anniversary celebration of Heinl’s, which has stood at Seventh and Walnut streets for more than 100 of those years.

Just a handful of Terre Haute businesses have operated as long as Heinl’s, which has had five different owners since founder John G. Heinl died in 1920 at age 76.

A German immigrant, Heinl opened the flower business with his son, Fredrick, in 1863.

On Friday, current owner, Vonda Monts, hosted a celebration of the business and two much newer businesses that occupy adjacent space – Vonda’s Garden Studio and Event Space and Annalee’s Beauty Salon & Shop.

“It’s going excellent,” said Annalee Monts, who operates the hair salon, which opened in 2011 next to the event space that was once a greenhouse.

The sort of business diversification that has taken place at Heinl’s is an important part of survival in the competitive retail flower business, said DeWayne Harper, who owned Heinl’s with his wife, Linda, from 1989 to 2001. They bought the business from Tony Divincenzo, DeWayne’s father, and still recall the former, longtime-owner’s reluctance to move away from selling just flowers.

“He just fought it tooth and nail,” DeWayne recalled of Divincenzo’s resistance to the selling of balloons, stuffed toys and other gifts in the shop. “He was old school.”

There were more than 20,000 retail flower shops in the U.S. in 2009, but the number of shops has been on a 12-year skid as flower sales have drifted to mass-market and direct-ship retailers, according to Florists’ Review, an industry publication.

On Friday, gathered in the spacious event room, guests enjoyed locally-produced art, food and drinks and learned about the rich history John G. Heinl, one of the city’s most accomplished citizens. Guests also heard how the Heinl family is linked to the city’s most famous folk tale: The legend of Stiffy Green.

In fact, the flower shop has its own replica of the famous green-eyed dog, whose spirit – according to legend – roams Highland Lawn Cemetery with departed owner, John Heinl. For decades, the concrete dog, who came to be called “Stiffy Green,” sat inside the Heinl Family mausoleum. It was moved to the Vigo County Historical Society Museum in the 1980s due to vandalism.

Spooky legends aside, for Vonda Monts, owning a flower shop is a way to spread happiness, she said during Friday’s celebration, which also featured work from local artists Debbie Goodin, Becky Hochhalter and Todd Stokes. “Making people smile,” Monts said, “that’s what I really like about it.”

Reporter Arthur Foulkes can be reached at 812-231-4232 or arthur.foulkes@tribstar.com