FORT SMITH — Bill and Jo Neumeier closed Neumeier Nursery and Florist last month after 54 years in the thriving business.
The nursery started in the home of married couple Bill and Jo Neumeier in 1968. Soon, their three children and the greenhouses outgrew the space. They moved their home and business in 1976 almost directly across the street from the historic home at 3327 N. O St., which was built in 1904.
The five acres provided the perfect location to add greenhouses and open a flower shop in the original carriage house.
Jo Neumeier recalls that Bill was opposed to owning a flower shop, having worked at one in college. She said a friend was interested in working in the flower department for them, but Bill said he wouldn’t do it until he died or a refrigerator fell from heaven.
“So a cooler fell from heaven,” he said. His brother Bill worked for a company that took things from storage buildings that people didn’t pay for, and they said “empty it and throw it away.” Well, one of them had a cooler in it. A big, old refrigerator. So he drove over here and said “I just can’t take this to the dump. This is too good.” He said “would you like it?” So Bill called my friend and said a refrigerator fell from heaven. Two weeks later, he came to work for us.”
The Neumeiers’ daughter, Lisa Hearn, noted that the friend was Clancy Armstrong, who later started Expressions Flowers off Garrison Avenue.
Jo Neumeier said they didn’t even have a compressor for the refrigerator for a while.
“So Clancy would come to work every morning with a big block of ice and we’d put a fan in the fridge and blow on the ice to keep our flowers cool,” he said. “We did this every morning. And finally, we had enough money to buy a compressor, so we put it on, turned it off, and ran.”
Hearn recalled other unusual moments about living and working at the nursery, including making pots out of roofs for customers to take home because plastic pots weren’t made at the time. They also became recyclers early on.
“The children learned to be humble because we went to St. Boniface School, they took those cans from the lady in the cafeteria,” Hearn said. “So he’d throw in the green beans and the corn, and we’d be there with these ugly cans in a black plastic bag after school, and I’d be like, ‘Please don’t let anyone see us.’
Jo Neumeier said in recent years the nursery has seen a boom in business due to Covid-19 and people having more time for hobbies. He said it’s nice to see the younger generation getting involved in planting as well.
“My granddaughter has a store in Shawnee, Okla. Of course, she’s a young man who owns a store. When I went to visit, I was a little surprised because where I used to store a lot of things, hers was very strict. like clay pots and plants, and it was, and it was thriving. They were selling root cuttings, which we would never have thought of doing. It’s just a whole new generation that’s interested in plants, and it’s great,” he said. . . . “It’s really great.”
Jo Neumeier and Hearn said running their family business has helped teach future generations of the family how to grow their own businesses, and that many of them enjoy planting as a hobby.
Neumeier said she was surprised by the public’s response to the kindergarten closing at the end of July.
“I’ve gotten cards. One of them said he’s a fourth generation shopper here. It was very touching,” Neumeier said. “I guess that surprised me the most, that people were so connected to the preschool, that it meant so much to them. I hate to take that away. I think it was that homely feeling.”
Hearn said she believes people developed personal relationships with the nursery and staff because of their level of service compared to larger chains.
“You might show up and say, ‘I’ve got all the shade in my yard,’ so this person will go to you and go, ‘well this is what’s going to work in your yard.’ And then they package it, and then the they put in your car and then they drive you over there. So that person, when they come back they’re like ‘I want Tanya, because Tanya knew exactly what I have in my own yard and she knows what’s going to fit.’ So it’s that service,” Hearn explained.
“If we could turn back the clock, we would stay, because we love it. But we’re getting old, and you just can’t do this forever,” Neumeier said. He added that they cannot sell the business because it is also their home.
Jo is 79 and Bill is 82.
Jo Neumeier said they will continue to work on the garden for their personal enjoyment and will announce on Facebook when they plan to open to the public for photography or just enjoying the garden. She said she likes the Audrey Hepburn quote “To plant a tree is to believe in tomorrow” and hopes the nursery has left that impact on Fort Smith.
“It’s never too late to plant,” he said. “It’s the future, whether it’s for you or someone else.”