After 139 years of family ownership, H.W. Brown Florist on Chestnut Street in Danville’s Old West End is changing hands.
Terry Shadrick, the great-grandson of H.W. Brown, has been involved in the business in one manner or another for the last 44 years and has stood at the helm of the enterprise since 2014.
In recent years he’s begun to think about retiring, but as there is no one left among the family with an interest in the business, it meant the family legacy was destined to end.
Then Shadrick got a call from a friend, Nan Freed, who asked him what his plans were. She told him she knew someone — an events planner with a talent for arranging flowers — who might be interested in taking over the shop, and so Shadrick invited Freed to send her over to meet him and to speak with him about her plans.
A few months went by, and nothing happened. And then one day, Katie Thomas came in and introduced herself.
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Thomas moved to Danville in 2015. Her events and flower arranging business happened quite by accident. In 2017, Thomas was helping a friend at a Boys & Girls Clubs of the Danville Area event. She had volunteered to arrange the flowers, charging the organization only the cost of the flowers themselves.
Averett University President Tiffany Franks was present at the event and asked Thomas who had done the arrangements. When Thomas confessed it was her work on display, Franks suggested she might like to hire her for another event.
In fact, when Franks reached out to Thomas shortly after that first event, she proposed her involvement in 15 others. Thomas objected on the grounds that she didn’t have a proper business set up, no wholesaler’s account, and told Franks “I don’t even have a business license.”
Franks’ response was decisive: “Well, I think you should get one.”
Thomas did, and her business has blossomed ever since.
Originally Thomas was just planning events and weddings. The floral arrangements were an aside to that, but with time, her arrangements have taken a front-row seat. She had previously been working out of a studio in her home. In 2018, her husband’s job demanded they leave Danville. Her business survived the move and continued to flourish as she worked from a studio in her home.
Back in Danville
Last year she and her husband found themselves with the opportunity of returning to Danville, which they have done with pleasure, but though business is as good as ever, their new living accommodations do not allow for an in-home studio.
Thomas needed a larger space, and perhaps one that included a storefront, and so she began looking at her options for expanding.
That’s when Freed stepped in. She had a friend who owned a flower business, and she knew he was looking at retiring soon. Perhaps Thomas might be a good fit to take over. Thomas began working out of H.W. Brown Florist in August of last year.
In between operating her own events business, she’s been learning the business of retail floristry.
“It has been a perfect fit,” she said.
When recalling how events took place to bring Thomas and H.W. Brown Florist together, Shadrick shakes his head.
“I was getting ready to retire,” Shadrick said. “I didn’t know what I was going to do. It was … providential.”
Henry William Brown’s floral business began when he arrived in Danville in 1883. Born in England in 1841, Brown lost his parents at a young age. He was subsequently raised by an uncle — a gardener — who trained him to follow in his footsteps.
After his initial training under his uncle, Brown secured gardening positions at some of England’s finest country homes: Studley Royal and Womersley Park in Yorkshire, and later Althorp which would one day be the childhood home of Lady Diana Spencer.
He even held a position at the royal gardens in London’s Battersea Park.
Brown had dreams of coming to America, and shortly after his marriage in 1871 to Sarah Slade Runyard, he arrived in Richmond only to find that the job promised him was no longer to be had. After a failed partnership, he went back to the work he knew best — tending the gardens of large estates. The wealthy tobacconist James Pace owned a large estate in Abermarle County.
Brown and his family lived at Keswick for a decade, during which time he planned and saved for a successful business of his own.
In autumn of 1883, Brown arrived in Danville and took over for the retiring Mr. Lanyard, a fellow Englishman who wished to return to his home country. The property at 848 Green St. had been purchased by Col. George King Griggs who hoped one day to build a home there. In the meantime, Lanyard’s greenhouses were present and operational.
Brown had everything in his possession to start a business, and thus the Danville Flower Garden was established. Through autumn and winter, they struggled to make ends meet, but when spring arrived, business took off. A year later, when Griggs was ready to build his home, Brown relocated his business and the greenhouses to 878 Green St.
Brown was said to have held court at his greenhouses on Sundays. Those who were mechanically inclined would go down to the trainyards and watch the trains, but those who were more horticulturally minded would gather at the Green Street property and listen to Brown talk about his plants and flowers and the best ways to grow and care for them.
In 1925, the business expanded from that which had previously been run from the family’s home and a modern store front was built, including a Lord and Burnham glass and iron greenhouse. The Flower Garden became H.W. Brown Florist.
Brown’s sons Samuel and Henry were also horticulturalists. Henry set up business in Lynchburg, while Samuel who took over the Danville business when his father died in 1934. Daughter Sallie married Dr. Samuel Shadrick, and it was their son Tommy Shadrick who took over the business after the Browns. He operated the business until his death in 2016.
While Thomas’ business is KatieDid Events, she plans on incorporating the H.W. Brown name as well. Among her visions for the future are the restoration of the Lord and Burnham greenhouse, growing and sourcing many of their own flowers, and establishing a community flower garden where citizens can come and learn about plant and flower care and even choose fresh picked flowers to take home.
While it’s bittersweet to see the business leave the Brown family after 139 years, the Shadrick family turn over the keys with full faith and plenty of gratitude for Thomas and her enthusiasm for carrying on the Brown tradition.