December 29, 2016 by Andrew McGinn
You can’t blame Bonnie Silbaugh for momentarily thinking of calling her new downtown flower shop “Bonnie’s Blossoms,” or something with equal alliteration. (Alas, “Silbaugh’s Stamens” doesn’t exactly have the same charm.)
After all, it’s her name on the business loan being used to buy a 12--year-old building on the north side of the Square.
It will be her money keeping the lights on. It could be her child’s college graduation she might one day miss if commencement happens to coincide with Mother’s Day, or if someone is in need of a funeral spray. But as a lifelong Jefferson resident, Silbaugh, 31, recognizes that Fudge’s Flowers is a name worth keeping.
“It’s been Fudge’s since 1943,” Silbaugh explained recently. “That does mean something.” On Tuesday, Silbaugh becomes the fifth owner of Fudge’s Flowers in its more than 73-year history on the Square, and the fourth one not named Fudge.
“You can make it your own in different ways,” Silbaugh reasoned. For starters, as one of those millennials we keep hearing about, Silbaugh will be taking Fudge’s Flowers online, and giving it a social media presence, for the first time in its history.
The fact that she could register the domain name www.fudges-flowers.com - the site isn’t yet live - could be taken as a sign that this was meant to be. “I couldn’t believe it was available,” Silbaugh said of the web address at a time when the internet is populated by more than 1.1 billion websites, including www.flowersbyfudgie.com in Florida and www. mainstreetfloralandfudge.com in North Dakota.
She hopes to use social media to remind people that, sure, while you can always send a friend an emoji to brighten their day, there’s still no substitute for flowers. “The other day,” Silbaugh said, rattling off an idea, “it was shortperson appreciation day. You get a short vase of flowers for your friend.”
Another idea she has are group design classes in the vein of group painting classes ³ come with some friends, leave with your own Á oral arrangement. But at the same time, Silbaugh is as nervous as an orchid in a new pot. “I haven’t changed jobs in 10 years,” said the mother of three. After 10 years as a sales associate at Greene County Farm Bureau, Silbaugh determined that “insurance isn’t my passion.”
She reached out to Katie Richardson, owner of Fudge’s Flowers & Gifts since 1993, to gauge her interest in selling the business. The timing couldn’t have been better. “I’m 73 years old,” Richardson said, “and it’s time.”
One definite change Silbaugh will oversee is the building’s face lift. Under Richardson’s ownership, the building - which dates to 1888 - was accepted for participation into the Community Development Block Grant, a million-dollar restoration of Jefferson’s historic downtown set to get underway in the spring. More than a dozen facades are set to be renovated in the project, which is being heralded as a “game changer” for downtown by Jefferson Matters: Main Street.
Silbaugh will get to see it through to completion. For her, Fudge’s will hopefully be her last job - which would be sweet because it also was her first. Barely just 16, the former Bonnie McPherson was hired by Richardson to work part time. “It sounded like a fun first job,” she recalled. “You have to learn how to make a bow. And you do deliveries,” she added. Then came lessons in basic arranging, but not before becoming one of the few kids in her Jefferson-Scranton class of 2004 to know the name of every street and that Brackett Street, for example, is only two blocks long.
Richardson, whose first job at 16 had been in a flower shop as well, felt that Silbaugh was a good fit for the business she in turn had purchased 23 years ago from Rose Morrison. “I felt comfortable knowing that hopefully she learned something when she was here,” Richardson said. In at least one little corner of the shop, it’s like she never left - Silbaugh points out the note she wrote as a teenager, still firmly affixed to a wall, reminding everybody to turn off the helium tank after filling up a balloon.
In other ways, the flower business Silbaugh is entering is vastly different than the one Richardson worked in. Pinterest has made the job all the more challenging, according to Richardson, when asked to match an arrangement staring back at her from a customer’s iPhone.
Certain holidays - like Easter and Thanksgiving - that used to be celebrated with centerpieces no longer just automatically generate business. On the upside, tulips, once available only in the spring, are now available year-round. But on the downside, there’s hardly a big-box store anymore, from Sam’s Club to Home Depot, that doesn’t carry poinsettias at Christmastime.
Fortunately, the core reason flower shops exist hasn’t changed. “Nobody’s ever sad when they get flowers,” said Silbaugh, whose grandma, Betty Thomsen, owned a flower shop in Paton in the ’60s.
The “Fudge Flower Shop” took root in Jefferson during a time of unprecedented turmoil and sadness - the Second World War. Gladys and Joe Fudge had come to Jefferson from Atlantic in 1941 to take over ownership of the shuttered Jefferson Greenhouse. As a convenience to customers affected by the wartime rationing of gasoline, the Fudges would temporarily set up shop on the Square during the spring rush and holiday seasons.
Their “Downtown Flower Shop” eventually blossomed into the Fudge’s Flowers we know today. In another sign of how much society has changed - aside from the fact that the shop’s phone number was simply just “14” - Fudge’s furnished a new flower arrangement each week to adorn the ticket window at the Iowa Theatre (today’s Sierra Theatre), according to a 1947 story in the Herald.
Gladys passed away in 1960 at age 59. Joe joined her in 1962. However, their name would live on thanks to Viola Ferguson, an employee of the shop who purchased the business in 1961. It has remained Fudge’s ever since. “In a small town,” Richardson said, “it’s very important.” On one hand, it makes good business sense to keep the established name. But on the other, the name now works like something of a good luck charm.
“Everybody who’s owned it before,” Silbaugh said, “has taken it to retirement.”
Courtesy of Andrew McGinn, The Jefferson Herald, 12/29/16.