News From Terre Haute, Indiana

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February 7, 2014

VIDEO: Broken heart

Water damage from burst pipe too much to overcome for 151-year-old Heinl’s Flower Shop

TERRE HAUTE — Heinl’s Flower Shop will not be open for Valentine’s Day — or any future Valentine’s Day.

After a devastating water pipe rupture resulted in substantial damage to the design area, show room and an upstairs apartment on Jan. 9, owner Vonda Monts weighed her options, and her own future. And she’s decided not to re-open the floral shop, which has been in business for 151 years.

“The damage this winter, being closed for probably three more months, and the loss of business, has made me re-evaluate what I must do at this time in my life,” she said.

She will be 62 in March, and operating a small, hometown flower shop is challenging in the competitive retail flower business.

So Monts has decided not to re-open Heinl’s Flower Shop, a business that delivered joy and offered condolences through carefully designed flower arrangements.

“We always say we were there from birth to death and everything in between,” Monts said. “We provided a great service for people.” She bought the business in 2001.

As Monts gives a tour of the gutted design area and upstairs apartment, she becomes emotional about the tough decision she’s made. “I’m sad about it. But I’m trying to move forward,” she said. “It hasn’t been an easy decision.”

She’s grateful to customers for their friendship and loyalty and happy the business made it to its 150th anniversary last year. Not too many businesses can point to such an accomplishment, she said.

Now, she’s looking to the future and intends to restore the integrity of the historical building, which opened around 1900. She wants to see another business at the location. (Heinl’s was established in 1863 in another Terre Haute location).

“Roots are important to me and history is important to me,” she said. By preserving the building, she views it as “helping to save the soul of downtown.”

Currently, Monts, who is working with Freeze Home Improvements, is in the construction phase of tearing out and rebuilding. She sees many possibilities — a shop for wines and a wine tasting room, a cafe, a clothing store, an art studio.

She hopes to keep the building and lease the space, although, depending on how things work out, she may sell it. That’s another decision yet to be made.

One of Heinl’s long-time customers, Jeanne Harrington, is sad to see the historic flower shop close.

“I really hate to hear that. I think it’s a big loss to Terre Haute,” she said. Arrangements from Heinl’s “were always excellently done.”

She believes there’s still a real need for good, hometown flower shops such as Heinl’s. “There’s something about having flowers delivered that just makes you feel special,” said Harrington, who now lives in Florida, but recently called Heinl’s to send flowers to a relative. That’s when she heard the news.

Another long-time customer is Charles Kintz, now 84, who first went to Heinl’s with his mother when he was about 8 years old. He’s made many purchases there in past years, especially at Christmas. “I’d spend a fortune,” he said. “I’ll miss it.”

He bought flowers for his mother’s funeral there.

On Thursday, Heinl’s employees worked on inventory that includes ribbon, vases, balloons, stepping stones, cards, baskets and silk arrangements. Monts had eight part-time employees but had to let go of three.

On Jan. 9, it was Bud Welker who walked into the flower shop design area and saw what he described as “a waterfall.”

Water filled light fixtures, boxes floated on the floor and water ran downstairs into the basement; Monts said he’s fortunate he wasn’t electrocuted. Welker had been at the store the day before and “everything looked fine,” he said.

Welker, who has worked at the store seven years, has been Heinl’s head designer and event coordinator. The floral business has been his passion, he said. While he’s sad about what’s happened, he’s also excited about the building’s possibilities.

And as long Monts needs him, he said, “I’ll be here.”

Annalee Monts, Vonda’s daughter, will continue to operate a hair salon at 668 Walnut St. and that won’t change; it was not affected by the water pipe rupture.

Cricket Pardes, who often delivered flowers for Heinl’s, said the flower shop provided a personal touch and staff worked hard to keep customers pleased.

She’ll miss seeing the smile on people’s faces as she presented them with an unexpected bouquet, whether for an anniversary, birthday or budding romance. “It makes you feel good that you can brighten someone’s day,” Pardes said.

Heinl’s employee Michelle Inman said what’s happened is sad, but she hopes the community supports Monts in her efforts to restore the building. “I think it’s wonderful Vonda is making sure it’s restored,” she said.

While Monts doesn’t know exactly what will happen at 129 S. Seventh St., she’s optimistic about the future. “The possibilities are endless,” she said.

Sue Loughlin can be reached at 812-231-4235 or sue.loughlin@tribstar.com.

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