Running a successful business in a small town can be a daunting challenge, since most small businesses don't make it past their first year or two. Even if the company does survive those early years, there are always obstacles to remaining viable. One Tehachapi business that has stood the test of time and is now celebrating its 50-year anniversary is the Tehachapi Flower Shop.
Believed to be the original florist in town, Tehachapi Flower Shop was opened in January, 1963 by Daisy and Pete Minton, who moved here from McFarland. In 1963, the Beatles released their first album, Please Please Me, the Vietnam War was heating up, John F. Kennedy was president and Dr. Martin Luther King was being arrested in Birmingham, Alabama for "parading without a permit."
Half a century later the world is a very different place, but Tehachapi Flower Shop is still on East F Street and still providing custom floral display for weddings, celebrations, birthdays, anniversaries, funerals and other occasions. Owners Kandi and Dennis Smith have deep Tehachapi roots since Dennis grew up in Tehachapi, and they continue to serve the town they love with compassion and enthusiasm.
For its entire existence, Tehachapi Flower Shop has been located in one of three side-by-side storefronts in a building that sits between the Tehachapi Veterans Hall and the College Community Services offices (formerly Lloyd's Bank). The building was constructed by Al Lange and over the years the three storefronts have been home to many businesses, including the Tehachapi News, Byrom's Dress Shop, Lange Electric, Sierra Graphics, a Chinese food restaurant called Golden China, Johnson Printing, Mountain Music, and Marty Pay's Farmers Insurance business.
Daisy Minton had worked for many years for a florist in Delano, and she and her husband Pete decided to open up their own flower shop in one of the Kern County communities that didn't have one, so they looked into Wasco, Tehachapi and Arvin and then decided upon Tehachapi (naturally!). Daisy and Pete moved to Tehachapi with their sons, Ron Johnson and Steve Minton, and opened Tehachapi Flower Shop in the east one of the three spaces in the Lange building.
Daisy made the floral arrangements and Pete would make deliveries, and it could be a struggle in those early days, Steve Minton remembers. "My Mom worked by herself and did all the designing, and it could be tough just getting the flowers to work with," Steve recalls, "My Dad would have to go to Bakersfield or even Los Angeles to find wholesale cut flowers, because there was no one driving up here to sell flowers back in those days. My Mom had an arrangement with a couple she knew in Lancaster who also had a flower business, and if she had a really big wedding or funeral they would come up here and help out, and if they got swamped she would go down there and help them. I grew up being in the shop a lot and I would go delivering with my Dad, and to this day I don't like the smell of flowers," he joked.
Pete Minton took a job at Monolith and eventually became manager of the Tehachapi Public Cemetery District, and in 1971 the Mintons sold Tehachapi Flower Shop to Esther and Emil Freitag. Esther ran the business for many years and was a well-loved member of the Tehachapi community. Two of her longtime employees were Margie Findley, the sister of Warren and Dick Johnson who owned the Tehachapi News next door, and Jessie Garrett. The three of them had much fun working together and they could get a lot of flower arrangements made and delivered.
Because I knew our town well and was familiar with all the street names, I used to work for Esther in the early 1980s, delivering arrangements on big traditional flower occasions, like Mother's Day, Valentine's Day and Easter. I always enjoyed the busy pandemonium of the flower shop on the peak days of the year, when the walk-in box would be packed with dozens and dozens of arrangements that absolutely, positively had to be delivered that day. It was a fun experience to deliver as well, because you were essentially bringing someone good news in the form of a flower arrangement, an expression of caring from a loved one, and some recipients were so surprised and delighted that they'd thank you as warmly as if you had sent the flowers yourself, not just delivered them. Among the many who worked with Esther over the years were Margo Warner, Esther's daughter Bev Reilly, Tammy Householder Heckathorn and Glenna Perry.
Tehachapi Flower Shop has remained in the same building, which was later bought from Al Lange by the Johnson brothers, all these years though the business did move next door, from the east space to the one in the center. Esther Freitag sold Tehachapi Flower Shop to Shirley Stephens, and later it was purchased by Don and Deanna Miller and run by their daughter and son-in-law, Maryanne and Ron Sterling. One of their employees was Kandi Smith, who was hired as a rose cleaner for Valentine's Day in 1994, and stayed to become the owner in 2007.
"I was taught by John Hampton, who was a master designer," Kandi says. "For the first three months he rejected just about every arrangement I would make, and then I progressed to the point where he would say 'Kandi, this looks pretty good.' When you learn from the best, you learn quickly." Today Kandi runs both the flower shop and her Yogurt Junction next door, and her floral designer is Dave Bryant. "Dave came from the MGM Grand in Las Vegas, where he used to design arrangements for Frank Sinatra and other celebrities," Kandi explained, "He is wonderful."
Kandi said that a party for the public is planned for later in the year to celebrate 50 continuous years of brightening the lives of Tehachapi people with flowers. Tehachapi Flower Shop is one of a handful of legacy businesses, including the Tehachapi News, Kelcy's Cafe, the Burger Spot and others, that have weathered the storms of time and are still part of the fabric of our little town.
Have a good week.
JON HAMMOND has written for the Tehachapi News for more than 30 years. Send email to: firstname.lastname@example.org.