With the re-opening of the 700 block of Gay Street, it seemed a good time to take a look at a business located precisely at the beginning of that block, The Flower Pot, at 700 S. Gay Street. There are two locations, the other being at 2314 N. Broadway, serving the downtown and near-downtown area. In all the discussion of amenities we want to see downtown, it’s important to remember that we’ve had some all along.
I stopped in to see Emily Campen, current owner of the business. She’s all Knoxville, having been born here, graduating from Webb High School and going on to the University of Tennessee where she earned a BA in psychology. She later earned a MA in Curriculum and Instruction and taught for thirteen years; twelve with Knox County Schools and one with the Episcopal School of Knoxville.
She left teaching in 2015 to run the Flower Pot, but had previously worked there when principal owners Mary Beth Cary-Reagan (her sister) and Gina McMurray needed help. When Gina left, Emily added to her ownership and when Mary Beth had to move out of state, Emily began purchasing an increasing share in the business. Looking for something different to do, she’d worked retail in college, but otherwise had to learn the business from scratch.
She said managing staff has been the biggest challenge as she has worked to hire and keep the right people. She said she’s actually called on her classroom management skills to help. One advantage she notes – she can pick her employees and she didn’t have that option in the classroom. She feels she now has a good team in place. It’s part of the bigger paradigm shift of “going from employee to boss.”
Added to that challenge has been the constant state of construction on the 700 block. Last summer, her first as owner, was dominated by KUB’s update to its utilities in the street and this spring and summer have brought all the other construction to the sidewalk and street. She’s accepted it as, “part of the process.” With jackhammers outside the window, she’s had to forward calls to the Broadway location, at times, just to be able to hear.
The history of the store predates downtown’s current resurgence by decades – or much more, depending on how you date it. Baum’s “Home of Flowers” began in downtown Knoxville in 1889, 1892 or 1918, depending on which source you choose. The Baum family over saw a huge floral business, operating multiple greenhouses and playing a part in the establishment of the original FTD in 1910. While it may have had other locations, the business was located at 631 S. Gay Street – a few yards from the current location of The Flower Pot – by 1974.
In 1975, after the death the previous year of Karl Baum, the business was sold to Mark Ross and became The Flower Pot. Cary-Reagan and McMurray purchased it in 2008 from Robert and Carolyn Dodson. They also purchased Betty’s Florist. It is through these connections the store claims to be Knoxville’s oldest locally owned florist, with a thread that runs back at least nearly fifty years. The current downtown location has remained constant since 1985 and the Broadway location has been in place since 1972.
Emily is determined to “provide the best we can to all our customers.” She divides her time, but works more at the Broadway location where the larger arrangements are made. She said, “the designers were already good and it’s hard to find good floral designers.” Her preference is to find designers who have trained elsewhere as opposed to training employees to design from scratch. Joline Reinmann, one of her best, trained in design school in Germany for three years.
Originally a Blue Circle hamburger restaurant (the sign is still in the basement), the downtown location has far more gifts to offer, ranging from stuffed animals and coffee cups to framed art and journals. It’s an option for gifts that may be overlooked as it currently sits in a spot removed from other downtown shops. They also offer gift baskets and plants. They will customize a gift basket even if it means shopping elsewhere for the items. She has UT parents call from out of town to request a gift basket for their student, for example.
She’s very pleased with the business, which she proudly points out is not only the oldest florist in the city, but also the largest family owned floral business in Knoxville. It is a partner with Teleflora, the wire service for flowers and the stores rank in the top 100 businesses of their 15,000 members. You’ll see their flowers in other businesses, as well, such as Five Bar, where you’ll find their silk flowers on the tables.
She’s particularly enjoyed her connections to and the support of other downtown businesses and she’s proud that her windows have been chosen as “fan favorite” in the Christmas decorating contest. Don Thomas, downtown location manager is the window designer for the store. You’ll also find her teaching classes for Random Acts of Flowers, called Flowers After Hours, in which participants make two arrangements, keeping one and donating the other to someone who otherwise would not get flowers.
It’s a downtown amenity that’s been here all along and one that Emily hopes will be serving downtown for decades to come. Stop in and pick up a gift, flowers or a plant. Support this business and all the businesses on the 700 block of S. Gay. The sidewalk is open and quite lovely – and they could use your support.