Community commemorates centennial business
NILES – As Mike Peters stepped out of a limo in front of Prime Table Restaurant on Tuesday morning, a crowd of his biggest fans awaited him.
Inside, half of the restaurant was filled to its 50-percent capacity with fellow business owners, local representatives, friends and family, all singing “happy birthday” as Peters walked in.
The date was not Peters’ birthday, but rather the 100th anniversary of East Main Gardens’ first flower sold, as well as his mother and father’s birthdays.
“We sold our first flower March 30, in 1921,” Peters said. “It has been a pleasure. I hope we can keep going.”
Peters loves to tell the story about how his grandparents planted the first seed of their floral business in Niles.
On March 30, 1921, Milfred Peters was at the hospital with his wife Nellie. Nellie was in labor with their son, Roy, who would be Mike’s father.
Nellie had a greenhouse of plants she loved. When she and Milfred moved to Niles from Sand Creek, Michigan so he could take a job with the railroad, she had Milfred move the plants and greenhouse with them. While in labor, Nellie sent Milfred home to check on and water her plants.
As Peters tells the story, he said Milfred returned to the hospital and told Nellie, “I’ve got some good news: the flowers are beautiful, just like you. The bad news is that I sold one.”
Nellie contemplated for a moment, and then told Milfred to sell another one.
East Main Gardens was born the same day as Roy, Mike’s father.
Coincedentally, on the same date two years later, Mike’s mother, Helen, was born to his maternal grandparents.
One hundred years after the first flower was sold, the business still sits at its original location at 1521 E. Main St., Niles. The showroom and the greenhouse have bloomed in size over the years.
East Main Gardens’ interior is a testament to the Peters’ family with family portraits on display throughout the shop, allowing customers to see how an arrangement might look in their own home.
Peters grew up tying ribbons as his first job with the family business, and he rose through the ranks to eventually being the owner today.
Mike Oates, of Aim Water Treatment and president of Michiana Business Support, introduced the event as Peters found a place to sit. Michiana Business Support meets at 7:30 a.m. on Tuesday mornings to network and work out business challenges.
“One of the things that we do is give a commercial,” Oates said. “Well, today we aren’t doing a commercial except for one.”
He introduced Bob Feifar, of Feifar Productions, to do Peters’ pitch for him.
“There’s room for one more bloom,” Feifar said.
During the event, notable moments — both local and global — were highlighted in the context of East Main Garden’s history, emphasizing the longevity of the business and all it has witnessed.
For example, the local flower shop has been open through events like World War II, Sept. 11, 2001, and more. In the past 100 years, East Main Gardens employees have witnessed two flooding events in downtown Niles, and has outlasted landmark establishments like the Four Flags Hotel, built in 1925, and the local J.C. Penney, which arrived in 1920.
Niles City Council member Charlie McAfee attended the event, sitting in her favorite booth toward the front of the building.
“I’ve known Mike for a long time. East Main Gardens is in my ward [third],” McAfee said.
She said the business’ involvement with local sports teams and life events made East Main Gardens a part of her life.
“Whenever you see that [East Main Gardens] truck, you know everything is on track,” she said.
She spoke of losing her granddaughter last year, and how Peters was not only at the funeral with the flowers, but also showed up at her home with a large bouquet.
Peters circulated through the restaurant to talk with all who attended to celebrate he and his business. He had multiple cups of coffee stationed around the building as he attempted to speak with everyone he could. His children, now adults, sat in a corner booth supporting him.
Peters said he was excited to be celebrating the business’ centennial with his community and family, though humbled by the fanfare.
“I’m overwhelmed. Especially being picked up in a limo,” Peters said. “I’m just a regular guy. I wear jeans and a T-shirt. I drive a van. I’m not one of those that get a limo.”