Flourishing in a fading art form
It’s Monday morning, and Mary Lou Rinehart is taking a moment to relax.
Owner of Clyde Ray’s Flower Shop in Waynesville, Rinehart spent most of the weekend putting the final touches on innumerable corsages and arrangements for the two high school proms that were on back-to-back nights.
“You’re ecstatic when they come in and say their flowers look great,” she smiled. “It makes you feel good, and it never gets old.”
Clyde Ray’s is one of three locally owned flower shops in downtown Waynesville. It’s claim to fame, at least according to Rinehart, is it’s the oldest continuous florist in Western North Carolina. That’s a tradition she’s proud to carry on.
“I honestly didn’t think I’d be doing this for that long. It’s the longest I’ve done anything,” said Rinehart, who’s been running the shop for 28 years. “But, I really enjoy it, even when it can get hectic on Valentine’s Day or Mother’s Day.”
Raised in Ohio, Rinehart has always had a love for flowers. Whether it was wandering in her grandmother’s lush orchard or simply finding work at her hometown florist, flowers brought her joy.
“I like the changing of the seasons, and flowers are a great indicator of that,” she said. “There’s always something different, some new strain or color. It can be very trendy, too.”
Rinehart then moved from Ohio to Florida, where she lived for the next 30 years. Eventually, her family started looking around for new business ventures and soon came across Waynesville and Clyde Ray’s. It’s owner, the original Clyde Ray, had passed away, and the business was now being run by his bookkeeper.
“I never had any intention of owning a flower shop,” she said. “We wanted to come to the mountains and found we liked Waynesville.”
While the small town florists have taken a backseat to online retailers, large chain stores and a rollercoaster economy during the years, she has held strong and stuck it out. Rinehart points to the handful of regional flower shops that have already closed, but she feels the local hometown flower shop will never completely fade away.
“You get what you pay for,” she said. “The problem with buying flowers online is you never know what you’re going to get or what shape they’ll be in. A lot of the flowers at these chain stores are either overwatered or not watered enough, so they die in just a few days.”
Still, sales are down at Clyde Ray’s, which is why Rinehart stresses the importance of supporting local business.
“I’m hoping it picks up like it used to be,” she said. “If you don’t support your local businesses, they can’t make it.”
Nowadays, Rinehart is the sole owner of the shop and runs it with the help of a few assistants. She enjoys helping out her loyal customers find the perfect flower for their mother, relative, friend or significant other. It’s about sharing her passion for flowers with others, connecting to them through the unique beauty of a simple plant or complex arrangement.