The neighborhood I grew up in Florida was pretty typical of the 50s and early 60s. It was nestled on the north bank of Cedar Creek as it merged into the Ortega River as they formed an elbow on the way to the St. Johns River together. Three major thoroughfares criss-crossed the area: Roosevelt Boulevard, San Juan Avenue and Blanding Boulevard. There was an area of stores and shops near the intersection of Blanding and San Juan complete with a furniture store, a drug store, Mr. Griffin’s barber shop. I never walked past the barber shop without saying “hi” to Mr. Griffin; he lived across the street from us. There was also a large grocery store which would eventually a Winn-Dixie supermarket. That was a big time grocery store with isles of groceries grocery carts and check-out lanes.
But drive about a mile south down Blanding and you would come across a completely different type of grocery store; Flower’s Groceries. There is no way to describe Flowers’ Groceries in today’s terms. It was sort of a cross between a convenience store and a bodega in modern terms. But there was a great difference. Old man Flowers, as we fondly called him, would greet you standing in front of his long low wooden counter wearing his big apron with the bib tucked under the drawstrings as he merrily took your order and walked around the store gathering the items you needed and stacking them neatly on the counter. Once completed, he would add the prices in his head and tell you the cost of your order. If you insisted, he would add them on the cash register but he always got it right, down to the penny. He was amazing that way.
Left: This is what Flowers' Grocery Store looks like today. There aren’t any more grocery stores like Flowers’ any more. There was only one big room in the store. It was the first floor of a cinder block building. In the back, up on the second floor was a tiny apartment where he raised his family. He had a quiet life and would never become a rich man, but it was a comfortable life and he was always close in case Mrs. Flowers needed him upstairs to handle the occasional domestic crisis. Most of the time, he had plenty of time to gather the order so he would sit back down and update me with all the neighborhood news. I emphasize news, not gossip. He detested gossip and would chide the occasional customer who came in brimming with dirt to share. It was always the good stuff that he wanted to share; the Smith’s new little girl or the Jones puppy had a litter, just in case we were looking for a new dog. During the times when he was busy, he would let me help out with the items that were stored in locations I could reach.
It was Mr. Flowers that introduced me to the sugar laced “evils” of Nehi orange soda. Every so often, he would spot me riding my bike down Birkenhead Road towards the store, and by time I came through the back door, there would be a pair of open bottles of Nehi sitting on the counter covered with condensation glistening in the afternoon sun as it streamed through the westward facing windows. Next to the Nehi were a couple of bags of Tom’s salted peanuts. I knew then and there that he was not busy and that we would spend a half hour sharing neighborhood news. After all, I was one of the “reporters” working on the old man Flowers’ news team.
The windows in the front of the store were updated when the store was remodeled. I can’t remember much of the conversations that we had back in the day, but, I do remember the quiet comfort that surrounded Flowers’ Grocery Store that did not exist in the super market a few blocks down the street. True, there were some items that we could not get at Flowers’, but when I was given a shopping list by my Mom, I was always glad when checking that list revealed that everything was available at Flowers’. Besides it was only three blocks to Flowers’ and it was 5 block to the supermarket, plus I could lean my bike on the side of the stairs to the apartment right at the back door. Parking for bikes at the supermarket was on the side of the store, a much longer walking distance.
I sort of feel sorry for the kids today who will never know the quiet joy of being able to fearlessly roam the neighborhood and visit the local grocery store to enjoy the company of someone like old man Flowers. It was one of joys of growing up back in the day. Oh MY!