DOVER — Mixed in with the smell of fresh flowers, the holiday decorations and the colorful ornate arrangements, is a sense of history, legacy and family at Jen-Mor Florist.
Fifty years ago, the late Jane and John Zimmerman Jr. decided to purchase what was then a small floral operation, which blossomed into a premier florist in central Delaware.
Now, as the Zimmermans’ shop is celebrating its golden anniversary, their children are leading the company into the future.
“It was a mom and pop, two-person operation. It had dirt floors. (But) my dad had some experience working in a greenhouse up in Reading, Pennsylvania, where he was from. He thought it would be a good idea to buy this place. So he did,” said current co-owner and manager John Zimmerman III.
“My mom worked here during the day and worked at the Acme downtown at night. She did that for a number of years until she retired from the Acme and worked here full time.”
Mr. and Mrs. Zimmerman had six children, and four of them are leading the company today.
“I was 11 when my parents bought this business. I remember sitting at the dining room table — my dad was in his 40s — and he said, ‘Your mother and I are thinking about buying a florist,’ and I just remember saying, ‘Yay.’ And who would have thought that, 50 years later, we’d be here?” daughter and co-owner Sue Krabill said.
Ms. Krabill is in charge of flowers for weddings and funeral services, as well as large projects like Jen-Mor’s annual Christmas display, which opened Sunday during the florist’s official 50th-anniversary celebration and open house.
Before purchasing the business, John Jr. was employed in civil service at Dover Air Force Base. He was the foreman of the propeller shop, working on C-133s and C-141s until those planes were decommissioned.
The Zimmermans’ second career took root in 1971.
“We’ve been here a long time. We try to be community-oriented. We try to participate as much as we possibly can,” John said. “We’ve been very fortunate to have a lot of loyal customers.”
Mrs. Zimmerman passed away in 2011, while Mr. Zimmerman Jr. died in 2018.
“Now, it’s the four of us running it, and we are trying to keep up the traditions they started,” John said.
Co-owner Michael Zimmerman runs the fresh flower-design division of Jen-Mor Florist.
“To me, the anniversary means our family legacy being passed on. We have several generations now. It’s a big responsibility when you think about it,” he said. “I like my job. I like making people happy with what we send out. We have a good team.”
When asked if he has a favorite flower, he said, “I like any flower that comes in that is good quality. Even after 50 years, I am still amazed by some of the flowers we get in. They are just stunning. It could be anything from a lily or a sunflower, anything. There are some nice, quality flowers out there. Even after 50 years, I like to be wowed.”
The youngest of the Zimmerman clan, Gina Fries, also a co-owner, oversees the company’s information technology department and advertising.
“For me, (the anniversary) is about my parents,” she said. “When they started, this place was a little hobby shed. They weren’t expecting it to turn into what it became. I want to make them proud and show them that we can carry on like they wanted us to.”
When the family purchased the flower shop, the name came with it.
“Before we had it, it was Jen-Mor. It was started by a man named Clayton Jenkins. He had a partner with the last name of Morley — Jen-Mor,” John said.
While seeding their new venture, the Zimmermans decided to maintain the name to keep the customer base.
“When we first started, we didn’t want to lose any identity, ... whatever little it was. We didn’t want to scare anybody off. Then, over time, it’s too late now. We’ll ride it out. It’s not the best name ever, but it is what it is,” John said.
The family has seen a lot happen to Dover and the world during the last five decades, and they have also seen a lot of changes in their industry.
“Forty years ago, before we had the first oil shortage, Kennett Square, Pennsylvania, was the rose capital of the world. They all grow in greenhouses, and when the oil prices went up, that killed it. All roses are now grown in South America. Carnations are grown in South America. We used to have a lot of flowers grown outside in Florida, but everything is in South America. It’s cheaper labor, no heating costs,” John said.
How flowers are sold and who sells them has changed a lot, too.
“Thirty years ago, there were 40,000-plus florists in the country. Now, there is less than 8,000,” he added.
“Walmart, Lowe’s, Home Depot — they’re selling stuff cheaper than we can find it for.”
“The latest competition is the internet. There is what we call order-gatherers. They aren’t really florists, but they are advertising that they are. There’s like 50 of them. You search florists, and they have paid Google to be at the top. Jen-Mor is at the bottom. People call them, thinking they are calling us.”
He added, “What you get from us ... you can’t get anywhere else. Where we can’t compete in price, we compete with service and quality.”
An example of the Jen-Mor’s quality comes in the form of the Freedom rose. The deep-red flower is grown exclusively on a farm in Ecuador.
“We are very fortunate to get them. They last a long time, at least a week. We have people who get two weeks out of them, if they add water like they should,” John said.
During lockdowns associated with the pandemic, Jen-Mor Florist closed its showroom but stayed open for delivery orders. The business also scaled back its workforce to just the four siblings.
Lately, though, the company has grown to include more than 20 employees. Some have worked alongside the Zimmerman family for decades.
When asked if he has a message for his customers, John said, “I just want to say thank you. Thank you for your business and support.”
Jen-Mor Florist is at 2109 S. DuPont Highway and jenmor.com. For more information or to place an order, call 302-697-3273.