VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. (WAVY) — While many things have come and gone over the years at the Virginia Beach Oceanfront, a community institution is still in full bloom half a century later.
Wayne and Louinda Jones just celebrated their store’s 50th birthday on December 1. The shop at 329 Laskin Road sits at the end of a cozy shopping center tucked between Arctic and Pacific avenues, down from the old location of the Isle of Capri Italian restaurant.
Wayne says they’re in the “happiest, best zip code in the state,” 23451 on the Oceanfront.
“We have it all here, we’ve got the ocean, we’ve got changes in seasons, it might be summer today, it might be winter tomorrow, and summer the next day.”
The shop is a former laundromat where skylights have replaced exhaust fans that used to hang in the ceiling. Sun shines on a sea of tulips, roses, lilies — and at this time of year, poinsettias. There are lots of those.
Walking to the counter you pass a bell that hangs from one of the old exhaust cutouts. It’s been there for about 35 years and is a customer favorite.
“We started on a wing and a prayer quite honestly,” said Wayne, who came to Hampton Roads from the small town of Willamston in eastern North Carolina to serve in the Navy during Vietnam. Wayne has a white beard, and his daughter jokes he and Louinda look like Mr. and Mrs. Claus.
Wayne was 28 when he put in his six months notice at another floral shop. He’d sold flowers since he was nine years old and was set on opening his own business.
His father taught him how to grow things in the garden, conveniently planted beside a well-trafficked road. “I would wrap my little glass vases and my little tin cans with burlap and sell the flowers … and later on started doing weddings and a funeral here and there.”
He initially zeroed in on another property on Laskin Road that now houses Captain George’s, but five and a half months later plans fell through, with his six months almost up.
But luck was on his side. A friendly customer was able to convince the owner of the then laundromat to let Wayne move in. Wayne secured a 30-year lease, and a green shag carpet with a 30-year warranty, certain he was making the right choice with Louinda as his business partner.
“We’ve outlived all the banks that told us we didn’t need another flower shop in Virginia Beach,” Wayne joked.
50 years later, business is still rolling, but they haven’t changed that green shag.
“It had a 30-year warranty on it and so he thought for sure in 30 years they’d still be in business,” said Alice Stephenson, one of the Joneses’ two daughters. “And I was like ‘daddy that’s such foresight, and here you are at 50 years and you still haven’t changed the carpet.”
They’ve supplied the flowers not only for countless weddings, funerals and other occasions, but major events such as the Virginia Arts Festival and Neptune Festival. About 75% of their business comes from Virginia Beach locals, and they say they don’t really need to advertise anymore due to word of mouth.
“We have tons of people who know us … an enormous customer base … we’re truly blessed with that,” Wayne said. “We’ve been fortunate enough to provide flowers for Virginia Musical Theater (now at the Sandler Center) every opening night. Musical theater is one of our favorites for entertainment.”
The two are also internationally known, having traveled and sent apprentices to Europe, South America and beyond. They both have the coveted American Institute of Floral Designers (AIFD) certification, considered to be the florist equivalent to a doctorate in medicine. They’re one of the few husband and wife couples that have membership in the institute, Wayne said.
“Truly in love” and building a life
Wayne and Louinda were both newcomers to their school when they met on the first day of 10th grade. The relationship quickly took off and survived three years of long distance as both went off to college.
“He started proposing to her when they were 18, and she told him she would not marry him until she was 21 years old. She wanted to become a nurse and she had to finish her education before she would accept,” Alice said.
Louinda would get her LPN license in Elizabeth City as Wayne went to Chowan College, but at 21 Wayne was chomping at the bit.
“[Louinda] was coming off a hospital shift on her birthday (she was born around midnight on July 31/August 1) and my daddy walked into the hospital with a beautiful pearl ring and proposed, and she finally said yes,” Alice said. “I said ‘daddy you had all them years you couldn’t save up for a diamond?’ He said ‘your momma didn’t want a diamond, she wanted a pearl.'”
They got married just over a month later, and just celebrated their 57th wedding anniversary in September.
“My daddy is still in love with my momma as much as the day he walked in that 10th grade classroom … he still leaves her love notes, he’ll leave her a love note on her toothbrush in the morning if he leaves the house before she does … so that’s what love will do … they’re truly in love.”
Louinda would eventually go back to school after Alice’s birth to get her R.N. while working at Norfolk General.
“[Wayne] played Mr. Mom during the three years I was in school,” Louinda said.
She worked at the old Leigh Memorial Hospital on Mowbray Arch and for about 15 years as a nurse in a urology department in Norfolk. She went to school and work early in the morning, taking deliveries to Norfolk beforehand, and went until about 3 p.m. Then she’d head back to the shop to work until it closed around 7 p.m.
Louinda also founded the Tidewater Delivery Cooperative, a group of florists from across the region that helped each other with deliveries.
“We struggled, but we got it, we made it,” Louinda said.
“They work and they work and they work, and they could run circles around people a third their age,” Alice said. “Seeing their work ethic, it’s not done until it’s done right, it’s not done until it’s done the best. We don’t do things halfway,” Alice said.
When the work’s over, Louinda joked she likes to sleep — and enjoy a nice glass of champagne on occasion. The real stuff, too. “I keep champagne in my refrigerator like I do butter and milk.”
A call from the chief, great neighbors
The coolest memory in 50 years? That’s when they were the “new kid on the block.”
“The phone rang … the lady told me her name and said ‘I’m the president’s secretary.’ I said the president of what? And she said the United States of America.”
It was President Richard Nixon’s secretary, Rose Mary Woods.
“Before she put me through she said ‘he would like to speak to you.’ He said ‘this is Richard Nixon, would you consider delivering corsages to the returning [Vietnam] POWs’ mothers, wives or sweethearts, from Pat and I?”
The Joneses received cards from the Secret Service that said when the POWs would come home, with everything strictly confidential.
“Well we knew some of them because they had been neighbors and I served active duty in the Navy. And we got em there,” Wayne said.
The Joneses would be invited to a dinner party in Washington for the POWs, and would go on to help decorate the White House during both the Ford and Carter administrations.
“We did that about 8 to 10 years,” Louinda said.
Another fun memory: being the unofficial florist for the neighboring bar named Pascal’s.
“If we were working late there was good sales,” Wayne said. “People started drinking and they’d come in here and buy flowers … so we had a lot of sales at night,” Louinda said.
“They were having a lot of fun in the parking and see the lights on and come knock on the door … say ‘let us in I want to buy Mary Jane some flowers, she’s been good to me, she’s the most beautiful bartender that we have’ and you would make a sale — whether or not they remembered it was a different story,” Wayne joked.
Those people would become friends of the shop, as the Joneses strived to be “not just good neighbors, but great neighbors.”
In the shop, overseas and next steps
That love extended to the Joneses family, employees and to customers.
Alice, who now teaches history at Peninsula Catholic High School, says her dad has fantastic people skills, but was quick to point out how instrumental her mother was in building that community.
“I cannot begin to tell you how many people, they’re customers, but they’re family because my momma has taken them in and loved on them as if they were her own children,” Alice said. “Some of my best memories of momma have been around her laughing, she is an eternal optimist … if I came home and said I broke my leg she’d say ‘well you got the other one!’ It was always looking to the bright side of things.”
She’s in charge of helping with employees.
“He’s just like Mrs. Jones, I need your help [with the employees],” Alice said. “When they’re at the store that’s what they call each other, Mr. and Mrs. Jones. It was never weird to me because it was demonstrating respect. As a teacher, that’s what I do to my students.”
Wayne meanwhile was a former world chairman of the Professional Floral Communicators – International and would take Alice with him overseas, and helped inspire her future career.
“I would be his Vanna [White], he would commentate and I would put the arrangements up the rows, and that’s how I got to know my dad and learn my love of history … he would take me back in time and paint a story,” Alice said.
And his spontaneous nature always had her laughing.
“When we were in Rome he looked at me one day and said ‘when you’ve seen one cathedral you’ve really seen em all, I want some gelato! So let’s get some gelato.”
Alice and her sister Ruth, who’s a realtor locally and in Richmond, both worked at the shop but their parents said as long as they had good grades and volunteered they could do other things. Alice still says the shop’s “in her DNA” and she and her husband still regularly help deliver flowers for her parents as adults.
The Joneses currently have two employees, both drivers, and have had apprentices go on to open their own shops in other countries. But it wasn’t about just training world-class florists.
Wayne pointed out his first three employees: Tony, Vernon and Nancy. “Nancy went on to become a teacher and have other great accomplishments. Tony went on to become a surfer in Hawaii and a plastic surgeon, and Vernon went on to become a realtor and gave 5,000 acres of his own property to the Nature Conservancy.”
“And I said to them along the way, save and give back to the community … I said if you want to create network, be of value to those who need it. Find a board you can serve on using your talents.”
Back at the shop on a rainy Wednesday, the Joneses insist they’re not going anywhere.
“I have no plans to retire,” Wayne said, adding he wants to go “for a long time.” Louinda plans to be there too.
“I know for a fact that my daddy would absolutely die if he didn’t have that purpose in him every day to go and serve God by serving people with his talent … and I know as long as my daddy has breath in his lungs my momma will be right beside him helping him,” Alice said.
And despite working around the clock for their busiest time of the year, the family plans to take time to celebrate the shop’s 50th over dinner — and almost certainly some champagne.