Business owner seeking successor so they can ‘stop and smell the roses’
Published 1:58 pm Monday, September 18, 2023
NILES — East Main Gardens has been providing flower arrangements and the joy that comes along with them to Niles and the surrounding area for more than a century. Current owner Mike Peters is the third generation of his family to run the business.
In recent years, with his children having moved on to their own pursuits, he has begun to consider retiring, with hopes of finding a new entrepreneur to begin their own legacy. Though he desires to move on, he hopes to see East Main Gardens live on long beyond him. As he looked to the next season of his life, he reflected on the history of the business.
In 1919, Peters’ grandfather, Milford, was a railroad worker in Sand Creek, Michigan. At the opportunity to join the railroad in Niles, he spoke to his wife, Nellie, about moving.
“I’ll go, but you’re going to have to take all of my plants with me,” she replied.
Nellie had a large greenhouse full of plants. She kept them as a hobby, but it was one of passion, so Milford agreed. It took several trips along what at the time were dirt roads, but he moved the entire collection from Sand Creek to Niles. On the country property that was not yet a part of the city, Milford built a house for his family to live in and a small structure for the flowers. He had little idea at that time they were beginning a 103 year legacy.
On March 30, 1921, Mike’s father, Roy, was born. Though at the hospital, Nellie’s concerns were also with her flowers at home. She asked Milford if he had watered all of her plants and, having forgotten, he left to do just that. While there, another man stopped by the gardens on his way to visit his own wife at the hospital. He asked to purchase a plant to take to her and, though unsure, Milford agreed. He returned to the hospital, reporting the news, concerned about the response. He needed not worry, as she told him to go sell another. With that, on the same day that Roy was born, the first plants of what would become East Main Gardens sold.
Peters’ grandparents had eleven children, all of whom would put in their time working in the greenhouse and flower shop. Roy would take over the business when Milford stopped working, running it for another few decades until passing away at age 72. The other children would take their knowledge to other locations, opening their own businesses, such as Murphy’s Flowers in Dowagiac or Southern Michigan Wholesale, or remaining in the business by working at other flower shops.
“It was kind of in their blood to continue this,” Mike said.
The greenhouse and flower shop were a part of life growing up for the family. Mike recalled days as a child playing in the greenhouse with friends or being put to work tying bows for his mother. He would ride with his father to assist with deliveries, running them up to doors when his father stopped, getting his pay in the form of donuts and chocolate milk when the work was finished. At age fifteen, he began to deliver himself. After the passing of his father, Mike Peters took over, running East Main Gardens for what has now been over fifty years. Just as his parents and grandparents, he has been able to raise his family, as well as serve generations of customers.
“It’s been good to us,” he said. “We’ve had a good base of customers and your best customer is a return customer.”
Those customers would continue to return over the years and pass the relationship on to their next generations. He recalled customers who would purchase flowers for their weddings and, years later, their children purchasing flowers for their own weddings.
He’s also witnessed changes over the decades. He recalled the salesman who brought the first push button phone into the business to replace the rotary phone. He saw the four old wooden greenhouses eventually replaced with newer, bigger structures and was involved in the addition of the current showroom. He saw the way the Internet changed the business and evolved East Main Gardens to keep it competitive.
“You can get flowers everywhere, but you can’t get the service we provide,” he said. “People know when they come here that we know what we are doing.”
Peters noted that he could fill a book with the joyful stories of his experiences growing up, working in, and running East Main Gardens. Whether holding the baby of a customer while she chased down her escaped dog, finding another dog sitting in the passenger seat of his delivery van, or taking a snowmobile ride from a kind stranger to complete a delivery after a severe winter storm, there have been adventures and fulfilling experiences since the beginning.
“All in all, it’s been a great experience to grow up in this business,” he said.
More times than not, when you take flowers to someone’s door, he receives a smile in response. He’s witnessed the comfort flowers bring to those in mourning and the joy in those celebrating. He explained that flowers fit into so many places in life, with different meanings for each, whether it is “Get Well”, “Happy Anniversary or Birthday”, “Sorry For Your Loss”, or “Just Because”.
“That’s what we do,” he said. “People don’t complain when you give them flowers.
The legacy of East Main Gardens is important to Peters and, he believes, important to Niles. When asked what it would take for the next owner to succeed, Peters spoke of a passion for taking care of people and satisfying customers.
“I really think there’s someone out there,” he said. “The flower business requires a learning process, but anyone can learn it if they are dedicated.”
He hopes to find someone so he can retire and enjoy seeing his grandkids grow up. He also hopes to have time to travel and ride his motorcycle. He’ll also continue the holiday tradition, started by his father, of floating Santa Claus on the river in downtown Niles for the children at the hospital and the rest of the community to enjoy.
“It’s been a really good business,” Peters said. “I wouldn’t trade it for the world.”