September 25, 2013 - One of Oakland County's and Lake Orion's oldest businesses, Jacobsen's Flowers, recently celebrated its 93rd anniversary.
In 1920, when Charles V. Jacobsen purchased an old greenhouse he couldn't have foreseen the way his business would have blossomed and grown 93 years later.
His grandsons, Bruce Jacobsen, 85, and Harold Jacobsen Jr., 89, have witnessed the development and transformation of the business in the changing world. Transportation, refrigeration, the cost of doing business, and technology have all impacted the family business.
Harold Jacobsen Jr., reminisced recently, joined by his children, Harold Jacobsen III, and Amy Jacobsen, who both currently manage the business. In the early days, Jacobsen's grew 90 percent of the flowers they sold, including cut chrysanthemums grown in the fall—their natural growing season—for arrangements.
Jacobsen saw hard times for the business, and attributes their ability to stay the course for hard work and new ideas, such as growing produce in the 1920s.
Other flowers they grew included roses, snapdragons and carnations. One entire green house was devoted to growing roses. Harold Jacobsen Jr., reminisced that he used cocoa mulch in the rose green house years ago.
Upon entering the rose greenhouse, people were welcomed by a strong chocolate aroma, and the sight of row after row of beautiful roses.
"California and Florida began growing flowers, but shipping was a problem—air shipping was not available until later," Jacobsen recalls. "You can't sell it if you don't have it. Trucks were just beginning—ice was used for cooling. Railway express had ice to cool cars. I would go to the rail station on West Huron Street to pick up our boxes. In the autumn, those boxes often contained very large chrysanthemums."
"In the late 40s, in the fall of the year during U-of- M football time [large football mums would be shipped]. "My Dad would take them to Ann Arbor and sell them to the spectators—large yellow mums with blue ribbons," Jacobsen Jr. said.
As transportation improved, flowers were shipped from California, as well as from Holland and other parts of Europe.
Currently, the majority of flowers are grown in South America. Jacobsen seems delighted at the ability to provide customers with special flowers, noting, "Just about any flower you want is available now at anytime. I have tulips in the cooler right now. There was a time when that wasn't possible."
The technology to keep flowers fresh and cool has improved since the time when ice box style coolers were used in the Pontiac store. Ice would be delivered by truck, and lifted to the top of the cooler. Later they converted the cooler to a refrigerant cooling system.
As a young man, Jacobsen Jr. was active in the family business, often walking from Pontiac High School to the Pontiac flower shop on North Saginaw Street. He would deliver flowers as a "jump boy," riding in the truck and running corsages up to homes in time for the school dances.
After graduating from High School in 1942, Jacobsen Jr. entered the Army to serve during WWII. He returned from service in 1946 and once again worked for Jacobsen's Flowers, focusing on the business operations and design areas.
His younger brother, Bruce, also served in the military, then attended Michigan State University (majoring in Horticulture), and returned to work in the business in 1953. He specialized in greenhouse operations, and is semi-retired, still finding time to work in the business. His son, Brad, joined him later, but no longer works for the company.
Harold Jacobsen Jr. recalls the Saginaw Street store fondly. Customers would enter the shop's main floor at street level to purchase flowers.
The design center was also located on the main floor. A circular wooden staircase at the back of the store allowed access to the balcony area. Through the years, the worn wooden steps of that staircase told the story of many daily trips up and down it.
Employees would climb that staircase to the office area where they would take telephone orders, and handle wire orders. Each order would be written on a slip on paper and sent down to the design are via a pulley system.
In the basement of the store, flowers were prepared for arranging—stems were cut, thorns were removed, foliage was trimmed and each flower was placed in water.
Amy Jacobsen remembers her grandfather preparing bucket after bucket of roses for Valentine's Day, stripping the thorny stems with his calloused hands.
Harold remembered too, adding that there were so many buckets of water in the prep area that rubber gloves and aprons were everyone's uniform during the busy holiday rush.
They occupied that store until a fire necessitated a move. Currently, Jacobsen's has three locations in Lake Orion, Bloomfield Hills and Waterford.
Jacobsen III notes that the cost of doing business has increased dramatically through the years and that delivery service has always been an important part of the business.
His father recalls filling up a delivery truck with gas for $3, just a fraction of today's cost.
Through the years, the Jacobsens have kept up with technological advances in the industry, first participating in FTD wire order technology (they've consistently been top FTD Members), to offering convenient on-line ordering, and now connecting with customers through social media including Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest.
With all of the challenges Jacobsen's Flowers has weathered throughout the years, there remains their goal to provide customers with beautiful, top quality flowers and excellent customer service.
This goal has guided each change and innovation, no matter which generation. has