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The Conversation: KC’s Luther Florist has spent more than a century serving the inner city

Bonnie Luther-Hayes, the fourth-generation owner of Luther Florists & Greenhouses at 3220 E. 27th St., has kept some of the store’s original features, including a 100-year-old cash register. It bears the name shared by her great-grandfather and grandfather, August Luther. The photograph (circa 1916) to the left of the register shows her grandfather August F. Luther and father Orlando A. Luther with a store employee.
Bonnie Luther-Hayes, the fourth-generation owner of Luther Florists & Greenhouses at 3220 E. 27th St., has kept some of the store’s original features, including a 100-year-old cash register. It bears the name shared by her great-grandfather and grandfather, August Luther. The photograph (circa 1916) to the left of the register shows her grandfather August F. Luther and father Orlando A. Luther with a store employee. Special to The Star

Bonnie Luther-Hayes is the fourth-generation owner of Luther Florist. Her great-grandfather, August Luther, an immigrant from Baden-Baden, Germany, opened the store at 27th Street and College in 1912.

In 2012, Luther Florist won a nationwide contest that resulted in FTD flying in a designer to give the century-old inner city store a makeover. Hayes says FTD was impressed by the store’s history as well as its original tile work, refrigerated display case and cash register.

The makeover preserved those original elements while changing the interior paint from yellow to gray, which makes the colors of flowers and exotic houseplants pop, and spiffing up the front window display area and signage. This conversation took place at the shop.

Q: Who are your customers?

A: We definitely serve the inner city, but we’ve got a lot of third-generation customers that live all over the metropolitan area. They know us from when their parents and grandparents lived around here, and they have stuck with us.

Q: What percentage of your business is walk-in?

A: Very little. Most people nowadays place orders by phone and we deliver.

Q: You live in Leawood. Have you ever considered selling the shop or moving it closer to your home?

A: Never. I feel very at home here. I don’t remember ever not being in here. As a young girl I came in every Saturday with my dad, and I would go play with friends in the neighborhood.

Not a week goes by — and this sounds like an exaggeration but it’s not — that two or three people don’t walk in here and tell me they are so glad I haven’t left, because everybody else has. I take that to heart, and I believe this is where I’m supposed to be.

Q: How has the neighborhood changed since you were a little girl?

A: It went from being mixed with white families and some black families, to being mostly black families and some elderly white people that refused to move when most of the whites left.

And it was very stable being mostly black until the drug houses moved in and the homes became rentals. That caused a decline.

I think now with the construction of the new (East Patrol) police campus (at 27th Street and Prospect), the neighborhood might be in for positive change. That brings in development and jobs and new people.

I’ve never had any problems here. My staff and I have never felt threatened or in any danger. I think when people perceive that the neighborhood is dangerous it comes from ignorance. They often have never been here.

Q: What are some things you have learned about flowers that would surprise people?

A: Guys come in and always buy roses for women, and you might think it’s because roses are women’s favorite flower. They aren’t. They are men’s favorite flower. Whenever gals come in and say they want to send something to their boyfriend and they don’t know what, I always tell them to send red roses. Men buy them because they love them.

Q: So men prefer roses, but how have trends changed in what women order?

A: “Airy” used to be a big trend. That involved a tall vase and some longer stemmed flowers, maybe some daisies and some baby’s breath in a loose arrangement, kind of taking up space. And now it’s the opposite. It’s all about compact, and more upscale flowers (such as) lilies, hydrangeas and roses more artfully arranged.

Cindy Hoedel: 816-234-4304, @cindyhoedel

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