NEWPORT In 1931, Elrod Purdy was working as a nurse. When she realized how flowers lifted the spirits of her patients, she had a vision to spread that joy to everyone by starting a flower business.
Eighty-one years later, that vision is still alive on Malcolm Avenue in Newport.
Purdy’s Flowers and Gifts, which was recently dubbed the oldest family-owned business in Jackson County, was sold earlier this year. But the new owners, Jon and Sheridan Chadwell, said the name will remain the same.
“It was a little bittersweet after it was announced,” John Purdy, 72, said about the sale of the business where he had worked since he was a child.
Elrod began arranging flowers in her home on Walnut Street. John said the floral business was a cottage industry then.
“She just thoroughly enjoyed the beauty of flowers,” John said about his mother. “In 1941, during World War II, the Army airfield base was in Newport, and during the holidays, they would come in to send flowers home.”
In 1940, the Newport Army Air Field was home to more than 4,800 people, which more than doubled the population of Newport at that time. More than 4,000 men were trained at the air field during World War II.
“I remember the soldiers coming to the house,” John said.
Until the late 1960s, Elrod ran her floral business from the home where she raised her two children, John and Jane. Then Purdy’s became one of the first tenants in the Village Mall on Malcolm Avenue.
John met Rosanna at a party, and nine months later, they were married in 1964. The couple lived in the house on Walnut Street after the elder Purdys moved into another home. John and Rosanna also took over the business.
“In the early ’70s, we expanded to the gift business,” John said. “Rosanna brought that to the table. We opened a small gift shop in the Village Mall in 1971. We consolidated in 1974, and in 1989, we bought our current building, which was a former Goodyear Tire store.”
If anyone knows the ins and outs of the flower business, it’s John Purdy. He said it remains stable, despite the economic conditions.
“The flower business might be recession proof,” he said. “Flowers are a product used to express oneself. I think no matter how the economy is, people are still going to express themselves.”
Just as much as John knows about the flower business, Rosanna knows the gift side. So they just leave each other to their sides of the store.
“We’ve drawn an imaginary line, but I’ve done things to irritate Rosanna, and she knows when to say something to me about it,” John said with a laugh.
Rosanna nodded in agreement.
“We don’t meet in between unless we have to talk about finances,” Rosanna said about the couple’s working relationship. “But I adore John, and we’re inseparable.”
When John and Rosanna decided it was time to retire, they began looking for a buyer for the shop. Because they weren’t going to sell to just anyone, they said they believed it must be a good fit for the community.
“They love Newport and decided they’d stay here, and they were interested in the story,” Rosanna said about the new owners. “It’s been a very smooth transition. I work three days a week at the store, and I went to market with Sheridan.”
Sheridan has been in Newport for 15 years, and Jon is director of the Newport Economic Development Commission. The Chadwells don’t plan on changing the well-known name of the shop, but they do plan on adding some new services to the business.
“We were looking for something that would make us a permanent part of Newport,” Sheridan said. “We’re not changing the name. I would like to get into event planning and wedding planning.”
John Purdy said that over the past 81 years, the business has kept most of its customers.
“People come in here that we don’t know, but we knew their parents,” John said. “It’s been a good ride. We are just some of the luckiest people in the world.”
“It’s hard to be all things to all people, but we sure do try,” Rosanna said about the shop’s customer service and its key to a successful run. “Service is key, and giving ourselves to it. Very few times people have walked through this door and not seen at least one of us.”
John and Rosanna said they are looking forward to spending their first holiday season away from the store. John also hopes to get in some trout fishing on the upper White River.
Staff writer Jeanni Brosius can be reached at (501) 244-4307 or firstname.lastname@example.org.