Last carnations: Don's Florist to close its doors after 33 years
By Kenneth Fine
Published in News on August 9, 2012 1:46 PM
News-Argus file photo
Don Worley is seen with his wife, Patti, left, daughter, Beth, right, and longtime employee Sally Fuller, center.
Don's Florist has been located on Spence Avenue for nearly 20 of the 33 years the business has operated in Wayne County. Saturday, the Worley family will open the shop one last time -- to say goodbye to loyal customers, family members and friends.
He only had $2 in his pocket -- the little boy who walked into a local flower shop one Mother's Day.
But he was determined to get something special for the woman who brought him into the world -- even if a simple card was all he could afford.
He had no idea that Don Worley, the proprietor of the store, had a reputation for random acts of kindness -- that the man making his way toward him had built his career on treating his customers like one of his own.
He had no way of knowing just how far those $2 were about to get him.
"Daddy gave him a dozen roses," Don's daughter, Beth said. "I've seen him do stuff like that a hundred times."
The stories that have unfolded inside Don's Florist for the past 33 years don't just belong to the Worleys and their staff.
They have become a part of the histories of thousands of Wayne County families who have visited the shop since it opened back in 1979.
So when Don hangs the "Open" sign one final time for a few hours Saturday morning, hundreds are expected to line up along Spence Avenue for a chance to shake the hand of a man they say has always put their welfare above his own -- to reluctantly say goodbye to their ailing florist, their friend.
But the truth is, closing the shop has never been a part of Don's plan.
Deep down, he always thought the legacy created when he extended a red carnation to the first woman to walk through his doors more than three decades ago would carry on long after his death -- that Beth would continue the tradition of selflessness he will forever be known for.
"It's gonna be tough for him," his wife, Patti, said. "It's gonna tough for all of us."
Patti takes a deep breath and looks back at the bare walls and near-empty coolers that, for years, have been filled with color, with life.
"We don't even have any wreaths up," she says. "It's hard to believe."
She never imagined the shop's story would end quite like this -- not after Don was diagnosed with leukemia in December 2008; not when the economy continued to worsen; not when Internet-based flower dealers began their ascent.
"But the economy is still going down and Don demands 24/7 care. I can only be in so many places at once," Patti said. "And you know, flower shops are kind of going out because of the Internet. You can order your wedding flowers and your funeral flowers at midnight if you're at home. So it's time."
Things were far different when her husband first opened his doors.
"Thirty years ago, the only way you got flowers was to walk into a place like this," Patti said. "And everyone knew everyone. If a kid in the neighborhood fell off their bicycle, there would be two or three people running to help.
"The generation now is in the fast lane. The fastest way they can get it done is the way they are gonna do it. I think they need to slow down and enjoy what God has created for us. We need to enjoy the beauty that's out there."
Were he able to communicate as effectively as he could before he fell ill, Don would say the same thing.
But even now, as he continues to battle cancer, he welcomes you with a warm smile.
He still stands for the belief that has kept him going all these years, that there is an inherent good in people.
And Patti and Beth believe Don has been among those who have set that example for the countless friends and strangers he has come into contact with.
He showed it when he transformed his shop into a drop-off point for a fundraising campaign designed to ensure needy children had school supplies.
And he showed it when he anonymously paid electric and water bills for customers who had fallen on hard times.
"He was never the type to sit back and say, 'Someone should do it,'" Patti said. "He would say, 'Never put it off on someone else if you can do it yourself.'"
But his kindness wasn't bestowed solely on those he did business with.
His compassion, Beth said, had quite a reach.
She was in the car with her parents after a busy day of deliveries when they came across the aftermath of a house fire.
"Daddy stopped and gave the family all the money he had in his pocket because they had two little kids. Then we went home and turned around and brought them all of our old clothes," Beth said. "That mom just cried and cried and cried. I can still remember the look on her face. There was nothing left of that house, but thanks to Daddy, they had enough money to stay in a hotel for a week -- to get them food and clothes."
"But that's what neighbors are here for, to help each other out," she said, taking another deep breath and looking down. "That's one of the reasons it's gonna be sad to see a landmark like this close. It's gonna be really sad to not be here for all those people who need us."
The surgeries, chemotherapy and "mini-strokes" might have taken their toll on Don's body, but Patti is certain his spirits will be at an all-time high Saturday from 9 a.m. to noon.
Sure, it's not the ending he had in mind for Don's Florist, but he accepts what he calls "the blessing" of being able to say goodbye on his own terms.
And whether he is wheelchair-bound or on his feet when the hundreds who are expected to attend his "retirement" walk through those doors one final time, he hopes his old friends realize that in his mind, each one is a member of his family.
But just in case there is any doubt, the first 100 who show will walk away with the complementary symbol of friendship Don has extended to thousands of women and children throughout the years -- a fitting ending, his wife said, to a story that started with a red carnation.
"It's wonderful to know that over the years, people have cared about me and my family," Don said in a near-whisper. "I just hope and pray they know how much I've cared about them."