J&M Flower Shop was ‘a bit of heaven on earth’

Published 12:00 am Thursday, April 11, 2013

SALISBURY — The days are winding down at J&M Flower Shop. It doesn’t seem possible that after 60 years, Margaret Jones is saying goodbye.
Jones — so cute you could eat her up — officially closed her store at 504 N. Main St. at the end of 2012, but she and assistant Shannon Flowers are still coming here Wednesdays through Saturdays to oversee the final “closeout sale” of leftover items such as vases, baskets and candles.
“Things have gone pretty well so far,” Jones says.
Until some recent challenges with her health, it never occurred to Jones to close this flower shop, which was one of the oldest, independently owned businesses in Salisbury.
“I just liked it too much,” she says.
But her three children said the time had finally come.
Jones smiles when she mentions her children, Andy, Tim and Leigh. Though they live elsewhere, they check in with her every day — often more than once.
“You would think they were here, the way they tell me what to do,” Margaret says, only half-complaining.
Few businesses were so identified with one couple, Robert and Margaret Jones, as J&M Flower Shop was.
When “Bobby” died in December 2003, Margaret continued on because she loved the shop and providing the flowers for virtually every occasion in her customers’ lives.
“Bobby felt — me, too — that God had given us this little bit of heaven on earth,” Margaret says.
Running your own shop is tough, Margaret will tell you.
“You have to like it to be in the flower business,” she adds. “It’s not a playhouse. You can enjoy it or not enjoy it. I enjoyed it.”
The flower shop was central to the 50-year love story of Bobby and Margaret Jones.
“I liked him the first time I saw him,” Margaret says.
Margaret grew up on a farm in eastern Rowan County. Her parents had seven children, including six girls, so she did her share of chores normally meant for boys or hired hands.
After graduating from Granite Quarry High School, she attended Salisbury Commercial College, and that led to a secretary’s job with J. Van Hanford and Son, a wholesale florist on Elm Street in Salisbury.
Hanford was the father of former U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Hanford Dole.
In the Hanford office, Margaret recalls, “You learned to do everything, so you could help out. They expected you to do good work, (but) they were really nice.”
She often used her shorthand skills to take letters dictated by John Hanford, Elizabeth Dole’s late brother.
Robert Jones also had a connection to Hanford and Son. His father had died when he was young, so Bob looked for any job he could find to help his mother, Mary.
While attending Boyden High School in Salisbury, he pulled grass out of rosebeds in the Hanford greenhouses. Theo Heilig, who worked for Hanford, came to like the young kid, who after high school attended the New York School of Floral Design and went to work for W. Morgenroth Florist in Winston-Salem.
Drafted into the Army, Jones was stationed in Germany during the Korean conflict. It was while he was overseas that Heilig first mentioned Jones’ name to Margaret.
“There was somebody he wanted me to meet,” Margaret says. “Theo knew he was coming home.”
Bob and Margaret met and, because Bob returned to his job in Winston-Salem after his Army hitch, the couple started a long-distance romance.
“Anyway, we wrote a lot of letters,” Margaret says. Hanford & Son also had a truck that regularly traveled to Winston-Salem florists, and Margaret would “send him some goodies” via that delivery truck.
By June 1953, Bob Jones decided to open his own florist shop at 125 W. Innes St. in a building owned by Hanford. It was named J&M Flower Shop Inc. to reflect the partners in the new venture — Robert Jones of Salisbury and Harold Mills of Concord.
Within a month, Robert and Margaret married at St. Peter’s Lutheran Church in Faith — her home church. They set up housekeeping on Heilig Avenue and returned to their jobs — Robert as general manager of his new store and Margaret back at Hanford & Son.
“I wanted to keep working,” she says. “It all kind of worked out nice.”
In November 1958, rather than keep paying rent to Hanford, Jones and Mills moved their business to 504 N. Main St. They bought an old boarding house for railroaders and remodeled it extensively.
They replaced a spacious porch that extended all the way to the sidewalk with a more modern storefront of Roman brick. The interior featured wood paneling, terrazzo floors, offices, workrooms and more refrigerated space.
On the side was a beauty parlor.
Bob Jones eventually bought out his partner — “two owners in a flower shop don’t work out too well,” Margaret says.
In addition, Margaret left Hanford & Son and joined J&M. She was expected to keep the books, but “bookwork wasn’t much fun,” Margaret recalls.
She began studying the flower designers and participated in all the retail aspects of the business. Customers came to trust what she recommended and designed for all occasions, from weddings to funerals.
Margaret knew their voices on the telephone and had instincts for exactly the kinds of flowers they wanted to send.
Shannon Flowers marveled at Margaret’s knowledge, even in these later years. Some customers would speak only to Margaret on the telephone.
“And she already knew what they wanted,” Flowers says.
Back in the day, people sent flowers or expected flowers for every occasion, from grand openings to confirmations.
“Bobby liked to say he made the bow for the first Food Lion,” Margaret says.
Bob especially liked to follow through on the flower arrangements he did for social parties.
The shop routinely provided altar flowers for churches. Hospital patients used to always receive flowers, and this time of year was especially busy with proms, Easter and Mother’s Day.
Things definitely have changed in the flower business.
“People don’t buy them like they used to,” Margaret says. “It has changed so much.”
People today might pick up flowers at the grocery store, or take care of orders themselves on their home computers. Margaret left it up to Flowers to help the business navigate the computer age.
Because of all those years working beside her husband, people often asked Margaret how they made it.
Start with love and respect.

“I doubt if Bobby and I had 25 cross words up here,” Margaret says. “We must have just thought on the same lines, you know.”
Margaret says she also treated their lives as having two different homes — the business home and the family home — and she liked both.
This little flower shop provided a good life, sent three children to the University of North Carolina, led to seven cherished grandchildren and created friendships Margaret will never forget.
“By the grace of God, he didn’t make it that hard,” she says.
Someday soon, the “closeout sale” will run its course, and J&M Flower Shop will be gone for good.
It hurts, having to leave a little bit of heaven on earth.
Contact Mark Wineka at 704-797-4263, or mwineka@salisburypost.com.