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AFTER 125 YEARS, FISCHERS STILL GROW FLORIST BUSINESS

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Dec 9, 2001

By Joseph Swavy Staff Writer, (609) 272-7253 ATLANTIC CITY - Members of the Fischer family may not have sought out careers as florists, but ultimately five generations of the family have ended up with careers at the flower shop that bears their name. For the past three generations, the Fischer men have gone off to college to receive degrees in chemistry, plant science and business respectively, only to find themselves back in the family business shortly after graduation. Fischer Flowers, which operates a store on Pacific Avenue here and another on Shore Road in Linwood, started 125 years ago in the Atlantic City home of Franciska Fischer. The original store was located at Kentucky and Arctic avenues, and in the late 1880s about 15,000 square feet of greenhouse space was added, said Charles W. Fischer Jr., who is the fourth generation of Fischers to work at the shop and serves as its president. "To the best of my knowledge, it started as a cottage industry," the 74-year-old said. The flower shop remained at Kentucky and Arctic avenues until the early 1920s, when Charles W. Fischer Jr's father was lured back to the family business after receiving a degree in chemistry from Cornell University. In order to get Charles W. Fischer Sr. to return to the business, his father moved the shop's greenhouses from Atlantic City to Linwood and opened a retail shop on Pacific Avenue - the same shop that stands today. Charles W. Fischer Sr. oversaw the business from 1921 until 1980. He died in 1983. Charles W. Fischer Jr. joined the family business in 1951 after obtaining an undergraduate degree in chemistry and graduate degrees in horticulture and plant science at Cornell. "I wanted to cover my bets," he said of the degrees. "But I felt my father needed some help. He was juggling both the greenhouse and the retail businesses. It was a lot to cover because he always had a very hands-on style." Charles W. Fischer Jr's initial role in the business was overseeing the shop's greenhouse operations, which produced fresh-cut flowers and potted plants. The Fischers stopped growing fresh-cut flowers in the 1970s, choosing instead to focus solely on the production of potted plants. "With the advent of air travel and the development of production sources in Central America, we evacuated the fresh-flower production business at a correct time," Charles W. Fischer Jr. said. The death of his father, coupled with rising energy costs, left Charles W. Fischer Jr. with a decision to make about the future of the family business. He decided to sell the greenhouses in order to focus on the retail operation. "We could save one business or the other," he said. "I opted to save the retail business. I felt it would be more pertinent because of the growth on the horizon in Atlantic City. I liked our location." The decision to focus on retail came about the same time legalized casino gambling was brought to Atlantic City. Charles W. Fischer Jr. said the casinos helped stabilize the region's economy and improved his family's business significantly. "It took the advent of the casinos to literally stop the slide of Atlantic City into the Atlantic Ocean," he said. "We participate with the casinos. We've had our share of business. We probably deliver to almost every casino every day." In 1983, Fischer Flowers bought Colonial Flowers, which had a shop along Shore Road in Linwood. The purchase allowed the retail shop to continue to serve many of its customers who had left Atlantic City. "Our customer base - even 20 years ago - was shifting more and more to the mainland," Charles W Fischer Jr. said. "It was an economic necessity to try to follow the customers." The fifth generation of Fischers joined the family business in 1992 on a trial basis, but Charles E. Fischer quickly decided to stay after earning a business degree from Western Maryland College. The 32-year-old is Charles W Fischer's only child and now serves as vice president of Fischer Flowers. "The store was part of everyday life even though I wasn't working there that much," Charles E. Fischer said. "I remember the shop being very busy. It was an industrious environment. People were humming along." Staffing levels at Fischer Flowers have remained fairly constant since the 1920s, the Fischers said. Technology hasn't eliminated the need for the trained florists because all of the store's arrangements are still assembled by hand. "The market demands an even greater amount of artistic talent today than in the past," Charles E. Fischer said. The stores employ about 20 people throughout the year, and that number swells to about 30 for the three biggest holidays of the year - Christmas, Valentine's Day and Mother's Day, which is the busiest day for florists. Fischer Flowers' longevity has created a very loyal customer base, but that brought additional pressure to the business as it adapted to changes in society and the florist industry. "Every day is a new challenge," Charles E. Fischer said. "Decisions that are made have to meet the current needs as well as taking into account our past. We have to make sure decisions we make are consistent with our heritage.” "New customers want something and older custom want something else. It's a delicate balance." Even updating store's logo on marketing materials requires careful attention to the flower shop's history. "It's a delicate process because the old logo has been around a long time," Charles E. Fischer said. "We don't want disenfranchise ourselves from it, but we want to modernize it." To celebrate the store's 125th anniversary, Fischer Flowers donated all of the revenue from the first 125 orders it received on Monday and Tuesday to American Red Cross Atlantic/Cumberland Chapter Disaster Relief Fund. The fundraiser netted more than $5,846 for charity. "We wanted to give something thing back to the community,” Charles E. Fischer said. "We wanted to celebrate our anniversary and felt this would be an appropriate way to do it.”

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