State Circle mainstay has flowery handoff

Florist shop frequented by Md. elite has new owner

May 16, 2004|By Andrea F. Siegel | Andrea F. Siegel,SUN STAFF

An Annapolis floral institution that over the years counted lawmakers, lobbyists and even governors among its clientele, has changed hands.

Flowers by James -- a family business for 45 years on State Circle -- is now York Flowers, bought by a third-generation florist whose shop is in an upscale neighborhood of northwest Washington.

Just steps from the State House and governor's mansion, Flowers by James has decorated weddings for thousands of brides around Annapolis, supplied corsages for the Naval Academy and many a May Day basket for businesses in Annapolis's Historic District.

Former Gov. Marvin Mandel frequently got flowers there for his late wife, Jeanne, sometimes strolling in there with her. He recalled being thankful that the shop not only knew her floral preferences, but could quickly fill his 11th-hour requests, even around holidays.

"I could call them on the phone and say, `Send some flowers' and they knew what to send. She liked colorful flowers," Mandel said.

Among the framed "Thank-yous" in the shop's office is one dated 1995, signed by key legislators for decorating the ballot box used to elect Lucille Maurer as state treasurer. Potter said the shop used Maryland's yellow, black and red color scheme.

But former owner James Keith Potter decided in early March to sell, having promised himself that after growing up in the business that he would keep it no more than 10 years after the death of his father, James Ray Potter, in 1997.

"I made the decision when I was at Bike Week in Daytona," said Potter, 55, who rides a custom American IronHorse motorcycle. "It's a tough industry now."

He and Ken Denaburg, owner of York Flowers, had a deal within days of Denaburg learning that the business was for sale. Potter said he retains ownership of the property. The shop closed briefly during April, and though it since has reopened, the transition is still under way.

Denaburg said he jumped at the opportunity to add the State Circle location to his business, a 64-year-old family operation that until now had one store. He said Potter's clients should not notice a difference in their purchases: "We will be equally as good, if not better."

Potter and Denaburg knew each other casually through the flower business, as did their fathers, from whom each took over their businesses.

"When I grew up, when I needed to do things in Annapolis, I worked with Flowers by James," said Denaburg, 48.

The sale came between the two busiest floral holidays of the year, Valentine's Day and Mother's Day. Valentine's Day is the second-biggest -- not everyone has a wife or a sweetheart, though a man's florist knows if he has both, Potter said. But "everyone has a mother," Potter said.

Generations of movers and shakers around the capital have called upon their neighbor for flowers, some of which graced opening sessions and other government functions, Potter said.

The business also counted among its deliverymen a youth who grew up to be president of the Maryland State Bar Association.

"James Potter was a wonderful man. He would employ part-time a bunch of us high school kids to deliver flowers at peak times, like Christmas, Easter and Mother's Day," said Annapolis lawyer James P. Nolan, who earned $1.50 an hour in 1968.

The owner made sure each student went home with more than the money they'd earned. "He would make sure that we had flowers to take home to our mothers at the end of the day. He wouldn't charge us for those," Nolan said.

James Ray Potter opened the shop in 1959 on Annapolis's Main Street. His son went there after school to do homework and help out. The elder Potter moved the shop to the current site in 1974.

"This business was his life," James Potter said, recalling weekends growing up when his father and the designers worked all night to arrange flowers for weddings because preservative techniques at the time could not keep arrangements made ahead fresh.

His daughter, Angela, 31, learned design and wiring techniques at her grandfather's knee. But she prefers dealing with customers, and for now is working for the new owners.

"I ran the cash register since I was 9," she said.

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