Florist Tom Carlson of Janesville to retire after 75 years
JANESVILLE—Tom Carlson's mother told him he could do anything as long as he poured his heart into it.
At age 7, Tom already showed ambition. He became an expert on tomato varieties at Fairview Greenhouse, his family's business.
His dad gave him a coin purse with $3 change, and Tom went to work selling tomato plants.
At the end of the day, Tom's father told his son he didn't know what the business would do without him.
Tom took the words to heart.
He has been in business at Fairview 75 years, if you begin with his tomato sales in May 1939.
No wonder his next move is so hard.
Carlson plans to retire in July from Fairview Florist on East Racine Street. He hopes to find a buyer for his Janesville business, one of the oldest in the city.
“This is the toughest thing I've ever done in my life,” the 82-year-old said.
Longtime customers will miss him.
Genevieve Joyce is one of Carlson's longest customers. The 93-year-old guesses she has known him for at least 50 years. Every spring, she orders a special color of geraniums for the front and back of her Janesville home.
“We never got anything that wasn't perfect,” Joyce said. “Tom always tries to please you. You can count on everything you get from him to be special.”
Carlson has carried on a long tradition.
Research by the Rock County Historical Society dates the business to between 1875 and 1890.
Carlson's parents, Harold and Martha Carlson, bought the business in 1927. Originally, the Fairview plant farm was located off 2100 E. Milwaukee St., when the city's eastside ended on Randall Avenue.
In January 1953, Carlson finished a business degree in 27 months because he wanted to get home and work at Fairview. His brother took over the greenhouse, while Tom opened a retail operation selling garden supplies.
A couple of years later, the business pioneered a new way of selling garden plants. Traditionally, if a customer wanted to buy plants, Tom removed them from a crowded flat and wrapped them in newspaper. Buyers had to transplant them right away.
Fairview began selling plants by the dozen in soil-filled packs.
“The container evolved into the plastic containers we have today,” Carlson said.
In the late 1950s, Carlson started a yard and garden show on WCLO radio. He became president of the Greater Chicago Garden Center Association and opened a landscape design and installation business with his brother.
In 1970, he designed and opened Fairview Mall, where he ran a floral department. In 2006, he moved his business to East Racine Street, where customers enjoy bouquets on Five Buck Fridays.
Carlson is thankful for loyal staff.
Kim Dazey of Janesville is a flower designer who works for Carlson.
“He pours his heart and soul into the business,” she said. “You want to please him because he has such a good work ethic. He cares about his people.”
Carlson is married to Linda, and they have two sons, Noel and Jeff.
In recent years, customers have asked Carlson when he is going to retire. His heartfelt response has been the same.
“I don't know how to retire because I haven't done it before,” Carlson said. “This is a huge event in my life. It is really, really tough.”
Anna Marie Lux is a columnist for The Gazette. Her columns run Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays. Call her with ideas or comments at 608-755-8264, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.