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Still blossoming after 121 years

Busch’s Florist is Jefferson City’s oldest retail business

Busch’s Florist, seen in this street view on Madison Avenue, is designated as a Jefferson City Landmark.

Busch’s Florist, seen in this street view on Madison Avenue, is designated as a Jefferson City Landmark. Photo by Stephen Brooks.

One hundred years ago, South Side shoppers would buy their long-stemmed flowers after a bit of conversation inside Busch’s Florist.

Today, many customers prefer the convenience of ordering floral arrangements or gifts by telephone or online.

Although the way of doing business has shifted from foot traffic to technology, what has remained the same through 121 years and three family-owners is personal service and detail, said current owner John Pelzer.

The oldest retail business in town was recognized as a city historic Landmark in May.

Although the historic buildings present economic challenges, the location is iconic, Pelzer said.

“We chose to invest in the location,” he said.

About three years ago, the business underwent a major renovation, including an overhaul of the infrastructure.

Pelzer preserved half of the 90-by-45-feet greenhouse, said to be the oldest glass greenhouse still in use in the state.

Since then, Dunklin Street Properties along with several other neighboring owners renovated the streetscape, retail spaces and upstairs residential along Dunklin Street.

“I’m proud of what they’ve done, and I’m excited about the future,” said Pelzer, president of the recently resurrected South Side Business District.

As for the floral industry, like many other retail businesses, the invasion of big box chains and online convenience have created challenges.

“I’m proud to say we’re hanging in there,” Pelzer said.

Professional design staff, accountability and attention to customer detail are some of Busch’s qualities that have helped the century-business survive.

Only one-third of the individual retail florists in town when Pelzer bought the business in 2000 are still open, he said.

But just like Hugo Busch 100 years ago, Pelzer is on the lookout for the next tool or service to not only maintain the business, but grow it. Busch had one of the first business telephone numbers — 11, Pelzer said.

For the florist to stay relevant in its third century, Pelzer said he has invested in an easily-navigated website and has a strong presence in social media.

“The legacy of having the iconic, oldest business is a huge motivator for me to put out a good product, to stay current with our design staff and design abilities,” Pelzer said.

Hugo Busch was born in 1867 and was a florist’s apprentice for three years before immigrating to the United States in 1884. He

worked at flower shops in St. Louis and Kansas City before buying his own business in 1890, with a partner, Charles Purzner.

The shop transferred ownership from Mathias and Mary Nagel to become the Busch and Purzner Florist until 1902, according to historian Gary Kremer’s “Heartland History.”

By 1905, the business name was Capital City Greenhouses. And the Jefferson Floral Company at 601 E. McCarty St. is shown open by 1911 in the city directory. And by 1909, Hugo Busch had purchased 25 acres of land in the vicinity of what is now Jefferson Plaza on Missouri Boulevard, used to grow plants for the shop, Kremer said.

Busch’s Florist decorated the Capitol and Governor’s Mansion for many years. And they were a frequent service for gubernatorial inaugurations and other statewide events and officials.

Hugo’s son, Arthur Busch, began managing the florist shop in the 1930s, after graduating from the Northeast Missouri State Teacher’s College in Kirksville — where he basketball under coach played Don Faurot.

When Arthur Busch was called to service in the U.S. Army in 1942, his new wife, Leota, took responsibility for the business, though she had assistance and advice from Hugo Busch, who remained active in the business until his death in 1955.

Another son, Ted, operated the seed department in the back of the greenhouse. And a third son, Hugo, operated a large nursery with more greenhouses on land along what is today Missouri Boulevard, which their father bought in 1909 for that purpose, said Walter Schroeder, Old Munichburg Association president.

Pelzer bought the business in 2000. And Buschsflorist.com went online April 6, 2002.

Pelzer opened a second, full-service location in Columbia in 2007, as well as establishing the Interior Plantscape and Plant Maintenance Department, which serves the office and residential needs of the community.

In 2009, Busch’s Florist was named the Small Business of the Year by the Jefferson City Area Chamber of Commerce. For several years, it has been named the Jefferson City News Tribune’s Reader’s Choice.

And recently, Teleflora listed Busch’s Florist among the top 250 florists in the nation.

“It always boils down to the people,” Pelzer said. “It’s still a people business.

“We love our customers. And we plan on being here at least another 100 years in this neighborhood.”

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