Keitha Clapp, owner and operator of Maryville Florists at 214 N. Main St. just south of the square, is celebrating a special anniversary today.
Back in the summer of 2003 − 10 years ago − the young flower shop employee did something millions of Americans dream about, many thousands fail at, and a few smart and savvy souls make a go of.
She put together some financing, bought out her bosses and started working for herself.
When Clapp purchased Maryville florists from Rego and Winifred Jones, she knew she had taken on a big challenge. By 2003, the glory days of traditional Midwestern retail districts − collections of family-owned shops clustered around an old courthouse or along a wide street through the middle of town − were already long over.
Big box chain stores began supplanting "downtown" as early as the 1970s. But a decade ago even those brick-and-mortar behemoths were under siege as a fast-growing army of shoppers began turning to the Internet.
But Clapp figured she could prevail by doing what businesses like Maryville Florists have always done best: filling the niche created by folks who prefer personal service and top-drawer merchandise.
And so for the past decade, Clapp has catered to customers willing to pay for care, craftsmanship and a florist who greets them by name as they walk in the door of a shop redolent with the scent of freshly cut flowers, locally produced honey and lush potted plants.
Going into the flower business was a natural fit for Clapp, who grew up in Ravenwood and majored in horticulture at Northwest Missouri State University. She began working for the Joneses in college, and continued at the shop after earning her degree in 1996.
"I liked what I did," she said, "But it doesn't pay very well, so I had to make a decision − find another job or take the next step and be my own boss."
She said the toughest part of the transition from worker to owner was something she hadn't really anticipated, taking on responsibility for the performance of others.
"The hardest part was learning how to be a boss," said Clapp, whose quick smile and sparkling eyes are rich with kindness and a sense of fun. "I went from being a friend and co-worker to the person who had to say, 'No, wait, we're going to do it this way.'"
Of course back in 2003, Clapp, like most of the rest of the country, didn't realize that she was soon to face a much vaster set of problems than managing her small staff. The Great Recession devastated small retailers nationwide, and the challenges created by years of tough economic times persist today.
"The recession has been a challenge, along with the lack of other businesses to draw people downtown," said Clapp, adding that it's been tough keeping up with competition from chain stores whose corporate owners can buy flowers in bulk.
Page 2 of 2 - But what doesn't kill you makes you stronger, as the saying goes, and Maryville Florists has survived by playing to that strength.
"We have a lot of loyal customers who have been with us for a long time, and we try to provide them with the best quality we can," she said, adding that one of the rewards of her profession is selling flowers celebrating the birth of children to mothers whose weddings were graced with blooms from the same shop.
Clapp has also worked to keep up with the times, and one of the first things she did after buying Maryville Florists a decade ago was to create a website. Today, she said, between 10 and 15 percent of her business in conducted online.
Whether in the shop or in cyberspace, however, Clapp said that for a small business it's the people that matter − the people along with the flowers and plants that are clearly close to her heart.
Watching Clapp's quick, decisive hands effortlessly shape yet another custom bouquet, one gets the feeling that this is the part of the business she relishes most.
"I just love plants," she said. "They relax me. It's just my thing."