Bob Felthousen had to think about this one.
“Another 100 years?” he said quietly, taking a moment to mull it over before appearing suddenly relieved to hand it off. “Boy, I would hope so, but I have to defer that to the person who’s going to drive the ship.”
He looked eagerly over to Mark Felthousen, his nephew and fourth generation owner of the flower shop and greenhouse his family has run since 1913.
“Well, I mean, I’d say we’ll keep it going for as long as our health and luck allows it,” said the younger Felthousen, glancing back at his uncle who was seated at a desk topped with stacks of disorganized paper and wearing something of a smirk. “But to keep it in the family requires a little good fortune.”
For 100 years, Felthousen’s Florist & Greenhouse has had the fortune of steady family ownership. It began with E.V.B. Felthousen in 1913 and since then its greenhouse has shrunk, its flower shop has quadrupled, and it offers flowers from Holland and South America and Miami, where it used to only offer the flowers from its own backyard. It’s been through two world wars, the Great Depression, the recent recession and the Internet revolution. It’s seen customers through birthdays, deaths, weddings, babies, breakups and make-ups.
After a century, the Felthousens have learned that hard times come and go, trends change in an instant, and that even when the option to do business over the phone and Internet became available, customers still prefer to walk into their local florist’s shop.
“You can be at home at 10 o’clock and if you whimsically say, 'Gee, I’d like to send flowers to my girlfriend in Chicago, you can go on our website and you can order them,” said Bob. “You don’t have to talk to anybody. You don’t have to come here. But we’d like you to come here. Believe it or not, I’m old fashioned. I’d like you to come in and get your flowers.”
Felthousen’s held an open house this weekend at its Niskayuna shop, located at 1537 Van Antwerp Road, to launch its spring season and debut new arrangements. Families filtered through the warm greenhouse filled with fragrant hyacinths, primroses, azaleas, hydrangeas, African violets, begonias and more. A toddler poked her head over a crate full of brown and yellow chicks, as employees urged customers to try some cookies and fruit punch.
Bob Felthousen took over the family business in 1968. His nephew Mark grew up hanging out and working in the shop, before taking on the official role of co-owner in 2011. They don’t know who’s next in line after Mark, but they seem to have faith in the organic nature of family business.
“Nobody is lined up or anything,” said Mark, chuckling. “But people’s plans change, and you might end up with a cousin or a nephew or someone that’s interested.”
Two things have kept the business going all these years, they said. The first is the industry itself.
“I think people will always be buying flowers and plants and giving them as gifts,” said Mark. “We help people express their emotions, either in good times or bad.”
The second key to success, for Felthousen’s at least, is its relationship with the community. About 25 years ago, Felthousen’s opened a sister shop in Cohoes, and 10 years later opened another shop in Troy.
As its footprint’s grown bigger, the Felthousens have gone out of their way to stay attuned to their community’s tastes.
“When I was in my heyday, we would go to New York City and go into the shops and see the different styles, and I’d say, 'Gee, we couldn’t sell this in Schenectady or Johnstown,’” recalled Bob. “They were selling these Victorian-looking arrangements to high-end New Yorkers. But up in our area near the Adirondacks, we have our own style.”