WHEELING - The mention of Laupp Florist brings to mind visions of beautiful flowers. But how about grapes?
Laupp Florist has been a part of Wheeling's business scene since 1873 when Franz Laupp built a greenhouse on Wheeling Island. While not formally documented, current family members believe Franz actually started out growing grapes for the popular wine business of the time. However, when the crops failed, the greenhouse went up and his full attention was given to the floral industry.
The first flower delivery from Laupp's was made via horse and buggy.
Photo by Heather Ziegler
Since 1873, Laupp Florist has served the needs of Wheeling-area customers. Today, the shop operates at 1109 Eoff St. under the care of Ginny Laupp Gessler, at left, and Brian Gessler who are shown with their daughter, Michelle.
Generations later, current owners Ginny Laupp Gessler and her husband Brian, carry on the business in a most modern facility at 1109 Eoff St., complete with a greenhouse, something not often found in a downtown business district. The business had moved several times from the Island to Market Street, then Chapline Street. The latter location was torn down to make way for the Federal Building addition.
The Gesslers' daughter Michelle said it was not uncommon for the Chapline Street location to display more than 500 poinsettias at Christmas, lilies at Easter as well as many other plants, silk arrangements and fresh cut flowers for a spectacular visual effect.
Ginny grew up in the business with her father William C. Laupp and his associate William P. Barry who set high standards of quality. Brian was brought into the family business when both Laupp and Barry retired in the 1980s. Brian had worked as a coal miner, but welcomed the opportunity in the Laupp family business.
"It was a time when coal mines were shutting down, and it was just the right time to join my wife in the business," Brian noted.
The couple built the current location from the ground up, bringing many of the modern amenities from the previous location with them including a large walk-in cooler.
"We love being downtown, and the taxes and insurance aren't bad. If I'm paying taxes, then I'm making money is the way I look at it," Brian offered.
While Laupp's has withstood many tests, from faltering economic times to weather affecting flower prices, their personal touch and "know-your-customers" attitude have kept their repeat business strong.
He said many of their customers worked at Laupp's when they were in high school and return to the business for their floral needs.
"We still bill customers ... most places require a credit card," Brian commented. The business has computers for some work, however Brian prefers the electric typewriter in the office for correspondence and maintains the original cash register. Ginny and Michelle agree Laupp's is "modernized with old-fashioned ways." Ginny said they have fun and even have cookouts with the employees.
Brian said the company has learned to roll with the times as far as trends. "Years ago, everyone wanted white glass vases, then it was baskets and colored glass. Now we are back to clear glass."
Valentine's Day remains the single largest volume of business day in the industry, with Mother's Day and the Christmas season especially busy times. In addition to the Gesslers, two designers and a part-time delivery driver keep the shop humming. Additional part-time help is added during holidays.
"People around here still like flowers. That's why we have several successful florists like us ... Wheeling Flower Shop, Elm Grove Flowers and Bethani's Bouquets ...," Brian said.
Weddings and funerals still keep all of the florists busy in Wheeling, however, even those occasions are changing.
"People like to send different things to the funeral homes. We carry the wooden angels, wreaths and little churches and things like that. We've even been asked to personalize grave blankets. It's all a matter of listening and knowing the customers," Brian said.
Brian is the president of the Ohio Valley Florist Association, which also has changed over the years. He said at one time there were 21 members and they would get together at Ernie's Esquire where they shared ideas and kept in touch with one another.
"We kind of fell apart, but I'm hoping to resurrect the group. I think as a group of retailers we can do a lot for one another," he added.