VAL-RAE LINDENAU Special to Registry & Bee
After 139 years of family ownership, HW Brown Florist on Chestnut Street in the Old West End of Danville is changing hands.
Terry Shadrick, HW Brown’s great-grandson, has been involved with the business in one way or another for 44 years and has been running the business since 2014.
In recent years he has begun to think about retiring, but with no one left in the family interested in the business, it meant the family legacy was destined to come to an end.
Then Shadrick received a call from a friend, Nan Freed, who asked him what his plans were. She told him she knew someone – an event planner with a talent for arranging flowers – who might be interested in taking over the shop, so Shadrick invited Freed to send her to meet him and tell him about his plans.
A few months passed and nothing happened. And then one day Katie Thomas walked in and introduced herself.
Thomas moved to Danville in 2015. His events and flower arranging business came about somewhat by accident. In 2017, Thomas was helping a friend at a Danville-area Boys and Girls Clubs event. She had volunteered to arrange the flowers, only charging the organization for the cost of the flowers themselves.
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Averett University President Tiffany Franks was present at the event and asked Thomas who made the arrangements. When Thomas confessed that it was his work that was on display, Franks suggested that she might like to hire him for another event.
In fact, when Franks reached out to Thomas shortly after that first event, she offered to attend 15 others. Thomas objected on the grounds that she had no proper business, no wholesaler account, and told Franks “I don’t even have a business license”.
Franks’ response was decisive: “Well, I think you should have one.”
Thomas did, and his business has flourished ever since.
Originally, Thomas only planned events and weddings. Floral arrangements were an aside to that, but over time her arrangements took a front-row seat. She previously worked in a studio at her home. In 2018, her husband’s job required them to leave Danville. Her business survived the move and continued to thrive as she worked in a studio at her home.
Back to Danville
Last year, she and her husband found themselves with the opportunity to return to Danville, which they gladly did, but although business is still going strong, their new accommodations do not allow for a home studio.
Thomas needed a bigger space, and maybe one that included a display case, so she started looking at her options for expansion.
That’s when Freed stepped in. She had a friend who owned a flower business, and she knew he was planning to retire soon. Maybe Thomas could be a good candidate to take over. Thomas started working at HW Brown Florist in August last year.
In between running her own events business, she learned the retail floristry business.
“It’s been a perfect fit,” she said.
Recalling how the events unfolded to reunite Thomas and HW Brown Florist, Shadrick shakes his head.
“I was getting ready to retire,” Shadrick said. “I didn’t know what I was going to do. It was… providential.
Henry William Brown’s flower business began when he arrived in Danville in 1883. Born in England in 1841, Brown lost his parents at a young age. He was then raised by an uncle – a gardener – who trained him to follow in his footsteps.
After his initial training under his uncle, Brown obtained positions as a gardener at some of England’s finest country houses: Studley Royal and Womersley Park in Yorkshire, and later Althorp which would one day be the home of childhood of Lady Diana Spencer.
He even held a position in the Royal Gardens of London’s Battersea Park.
Brown dreamed of coming to America, and shortly after his 1871 marriage to Sarah Slade Runyard, he arrived in Richmond to find that the job he had been promised was no longer available. After a failed partnership, he returned to the job he knew best: tending the gardens of large estates. Wealthy tobacconist James Pace owned a large estate in Abermarle County.
Brown and his family lived in Keswick for a decade, during which time he planned and saved for his own successful business.
In the fall of 1883, Brown arrived in Danville and took over from Mr. Lanyard, a fellow Englishman who wished to return to his country of origin. The property at 848 Green St. had been purchased by Colonel George King Griggs who hoped to one day build a home there. In the meantime, Lanyard’s greenhouses were present and operational.
Brown had everything in his possession to start a business, and so the Danville Flower Garden was created. During the fall and winter, they struggled to make ends meet, but when spring came, business took off. A year later, when Griggs was ready to build his home, Brown moved his business and greenhouses to 878 Green St.
Brown reportedly held court in his talons on Sunday. Those who were mechanically inclined would go down to the stations and watch the trains, but those who were more interested in horticulture would congregate at the Green Street estate and listen to Brown talk about his plants and flowers and the best ways to cultivate and maintain them. .
In 1925 the business expanded from that which had previously been run from the family home and a modern storefront was built, including a glass and iron Lord and Burnham greenhouse. The Flower Garden became HW Brown Florist.
Brown’s sons, Samuel and Henry, were also horticulturists. Henry started a business in Lynchburg, while Samuel took over the Danville business when his father died in 1934. His daughter Sallie married Dr. Samuel Shadrick, and it was their son Tommy Shadrick who took over the business after the Browns. He led the company until his death in 2016.
Although Thomas’ business is KatieDid Events, she also plans to incorporate the HW Brown name. Among his visions for the future are restoring the Lord and Burnham greenhouse, growing and sourcing many of their own flowers, and establishing a community flower garden where citizens can come and learn about the caring for plants and flowers and even choosing freshly picked flowers to take away. residence.
While it is bittersweet to see the company leave the Brown family after 139 years, the Shadrick family hands over the keys with complete faith and great gratitude for Thomas and his enthusiasm to carry on the Brown tradition.