Laurie Grahm (1)

Laurie talks about the history of Dudder Florist. Her father started growing flowers in the backyard that turned into a successful flower business.


CINDY HIRSHBERG: Good morning. I’m Cindy Hirshberg, and joining me today is Laurie Welch Grahm, daughter of Eileen Dutterer Gist, talking about the history of the Dutterer florist. It is April 18, 2009. And it will be our pleasure to talk about the history of the business here, a central fixture in the history of Carroll County.

Now, I understand you have a booklet that you’d like to share with us today that kind of captures everything. Laurie, did you write the book?

LAURIE GRAHM: Actually, we all compiled different pieces of it. And then we had someone with a PhD put it all together.

CINDY HIRSHBERG: Was it a family member with the PhD?

LAURIE GRAHM: No, it was a very close family friend.

CINDY HIRSHBERG: Marvelous. Well, would you like to walk us through it?

LAURIE GRAHM: Short. It is, um, just the history. And it says, uh– um, Say It With Flowers From Pennsylvania Avenue, because we’ve of course always been very deep rooted in Westminster, and also in Pennsylvania Avenue especially.

And the first picture is of my grandparents, of course. She was a lovely lady. I never knew her.

CINDY HIRSHBERG: In talking to your mom, um, in an earlier interview, uh, we learned a little bit about the family background–


CINDY HIRSHBERG: And the remarkable misfortune that prompted your– your– I guess it would be your granddad–


CINDY HIRSHBERG: –to start growing flowers in the backyard–


CINDY HIRSHBERG: –and turning that into one of the, um, institutions of– of life in Westminster in Carroll County. Please continue.

LAURIE GRAHM: Uh, yeah. Entrepreneurship in 1919 was very different than today. For him to make an entrepreneurship out of flowers because of no job.


LAURIE GRAHM: I’m sure we’ll probably see some more interesting things like that in times to come now.

CINDY HIRSHBERG: Let’s hope. Let’s hope.

LAURIE GRAHM: And then, um, the following few pages are photos of the greenhouses and all that were, um, on the property, where Dutterer Family Park is now. And, um, we had looked at developing a piece of property for housing. And then the city, um, made an offer to– and asked us to do some thoughts about what could really go there.

And the one thing that Westminster didn’t have was a really great large-size park at the west end of town.


LAURIE GRAHM: It had the park out near Roy Road near the greens, and it had the one right downtown. But it didn’t have anything sort of like on the left side of town, except for the school properties. So they asked us to consider, um, maybe helping them figure out how to make it a family park.

And that’s what was done and that’s what’s there today, although this is what it looked like before it had all the park equipment on it, when it was all greenhouses.

Um, my grandparents grew everything from hydrangeas, to mums, to azaleas, to– you name it, and they tried it. They even planted cheese once thinking that it was a bulb, and come to find out it was a gift from someone overseas. And they thought that it was a bulb for some huge flower.

CINDY HIRSHBERG: If they can grow it, why not?

LAURIE GRAHM: It did. It came from Holland. And little did they know that the cheese would only get b– better, as it was rolled in the wax and buried in the greenhouse.

And then just some– a few other assorted photos of my grandfather. And growing up around the flower shop, um, you know, not only were, you know, my grandparents there and created a– a marriage and a relationship in the flower business, but then they also raised three children, and then all of their children. And so all of us have been raised in the backside or near the flower shop.

CINDY HIRSHBERG: In fact, that’s where your sister is today. She’s running the–

LAURIE GRAHM: Yes. My sister Joan is at the shop, taking care of things today. We were all three planning on being here, but things got a little hectic there. So we tossed a coin and I won.

And then of course the changes on Pennsylvania Avenue have been just absolutely amazing. Um, it went from a street where you would play on the sidewalks to a pretty busy street with lots of traffic.

I can remember, you know, being a child leaving West Middle School and coming down across the hill, and playing with all of my friends on the street, you know, all up and down the street. And our limit was we weren’t allowed to cross Union Street because it was too big of a street to cross. So– and looking back now, it’s like, you know, I take my life in my hands when crossing in Pennsylvania Avenue in the car.

But, um, you know– and Pennsylvania Avenue has been a– a great place for the flower shop to be in, a gr– great place to raise kids and to live.

And the shop has made many, many changes over the years. Um, you know, from being at 110 Pennsylvania Avenue, just a little– basically big double closet to being what it is today with it being a big old Victorian house. It’s been pretty, um, amazing to watch it go through some of these changes.

Um, there was a greenhouse attached on the back of the property at Pennsylvania Avenue. Um, but then it was, uh, damaged during some hail and things, and very, very, very expensive to heat.


LAURIE GRAHM: So it was taken down, and then, uh, that’s where we had put in coolers and things like that for– to make the flower business more productive and more of contained in itself.

CINDY HIRSHBERG: So you would cut flowers from the greenhouse and keep them in the coolers?

LAURIE GRAHM: One of our employees is my Aunt, who’s been there for over 50 years, probably over 60 now.


LAURIE GRAHM: Close to it. And at the end of the day, they would go out and they would cut mums, and they would cut carnations, and different types of flowers, and put them in water before they were allowed to go home for the night so that the flowers would be ready in the morning for the flower shop. So they would cut them to send some to Baltimore.

And then they would also cut them to bring some over to the flower shop, ’cause my grandfather was a pretty smart man. He had a coal business, which at that time the greenhouses were heated by coal. And then he had the greenhouse business. And then he also had the flower business. So they were all intertwined and– and pretty much worked as a well-oiled unit.

CINDY HIRSHBERG: Um, how did you, uh, arrange the transition from growing your own flowers? I presume there are wholesalers or some other source of much of the material that is used?

LAURIE GRAHM: Absolutely.


LAURIE GRAHM: There, um– the wholesale business has changed so crazy. Lo– you used to buy everything locally grown, and you had seasons.


LAURIE GRAHM: Um, I can remember walking through the greenhouses at Easter and seeing all of the bulb plants and things, and then giving even Easter tours during Easter open house, when I was– you know, barely could see over the beds. And then, um, also in the– you know, in the winter, with poinsettias and things. And everything about the flower shop was seasonal, just like it is in your gardens.

Um, and then the flower business started to grow. And they realized that my grandfather had all of this space, and he made this deal with one of the wholesalers in Baltimore, which got all of the flowers grown at the greenhouse spread even further over the, you know, Central Maryland area, for everywhere that they delivered. And– and they would feasibly take flowers from the greenhouses to Baltimore one day and they would be in the hands of a flower shop either later that day or the next day, for people who didn’t have greenhouses.

And then when the oil embargo came along, um the greenhouses–

CINDY HIRSHBERG: This would be in the ’70s?

LAURIE GRAHM: In the ’70s. The greenhouses got very, very expensive to heat because they were changed over from coal to more efficient efficient. And what happened was it got too expensive. So they started talking about what the best thing to do with the greenhouses was.

And at the time, you know, the oil was outrageous. And I think my grandfather also, in his frugal way and in his way, way pre-green before it was cool way, he probably saw that as being kind of wasteful. So he didn’t want to waste a lot of crude oil and things like that, and had to make a decision about the greenhouses.


LAURIE GRAHM: And him and my uncle did a lot of that together, so– and then there’s different parts of– in our history book about, you know, the different families of my uncles and, um– and our family. My mom with hot red lipstick that you can’t see here in the picture. Someone told me, [INAUDIBLE], your mother needs to wear red lipstick again. That’s a pretty hot woman there.

And then we’ve also always had other things and, you know, involved in many, many things. And my one uncle was, um, very involved in the sheltered workshop. That was, you know, sort of like, um– like Summer Enterprises is today and– and a lot of the workshops now that deal with the mentally handicapped and physically handicapped.

And then my other uncle was into building cars, racing cars. Anything that went fast. So he built a roadster for my mom.

CINDY HIRSHBERG: Is that you in it?

LAURIE GRAHM: That– that’s– yeah, that’s my mom in there.

SUBJECT 2: Looks good on you. Looks good on you, honey.

LAURIE GRAHM: I know where that car is today. It needs to be back on the road again.

CINDY HIRSHBERG: It’ll look good on you too.

LAURIE GRAHM: Yeah. It would be fun someday. And then, um, we’ve always tried to be very involved in the community, um, in many ways. I know my mom always had [INAUDIBLE] and all different types of things. And my sister’s very involved in the Lions Club. And I’ve always done the chamber thing and the downtown stuff.

But we’ve always tried to keep flower shop out in the community too because if the community takes care of flower shop, the flower shop can help take care of the community. It’s– it’s probably the simplest way life should be.


LAURIE GRAHM: And we’ve done– you know, this is a parade way back from–


LAURIE GRAHM: –in the ’30s. And it was totally covered in flowers and things. And then this is the bicentennial and sesquicentennial. And my niece, who now has a child just about that size.

And then just a long history of employees. We’ve had, um, employees that have been everything from my godmother to my babysitter to aunts and uncles, best friends, family friends, people that have lived in the Pennsylvania Avenue area. My grandfather employed a lot of people that lived right in that general area.

And, you know, it was a staple. It was sort of like if you needed some work for the summer, he tried to figure it out. And– and if the alarms went off in the middle the night that the greenhouse didn’t have heat, people would run and try to help. And it was a very interesting little community that Pennsylvania Avenue was then.

And then some stuff about my family.

CINDY HIRSHBERG: Where are you? Which child are you?

LAURIE GRAHM: I am this one right here in the back.


LAURIE GRAHM: And this one right here with no teeth in the front. And then my dad, who passed away in ’79, who was also involved in the flower business.

And then the involvement we had in– you know, the church close by.


LAURIE GRAHM: Right, Grace Lutheran Church. And I’m still very involved there, and mom’s still very involved there. That has been our family church. And again, right there at Carroll Street and Main, right near Pennsylvania Avenue.


LAURIE GRAHM: And then just more of all the employees and all that have been there.

CINDY HIRSHBERG: Wonderful memories.

LAURIE GRAHM: Yeah, it’s– it’s awesome the history of–


LAURIE GRAHM: –the flower shop is amazing.

CINDY HIRSHBERG: Is that where– after school, you would go to the flower shop? Or would you go home and do your homework?

LAURIE GRAHM: Oh no, I’d go to the flower shop. I was sometimes forced to do my homework there.


LAURIE GRAHM: But– but I am– I always left there and went to the flower shop. And when I was a junior and senior in high school, I left school early and went to work at the flower shop.

And then this is when my mom remarried my stepfather after my father’s passed away. And then just some other things that we’ve done. We did, um– had decorated the governor’s mansion for the Maryland True Beautiful program.

And, um, many different places. Um, Mom was actually on the FTD board for the national corporation for the marketing division. And then I was an employee of FTD for a while, in technology.

CINDY HIRSHBERG: FTD stands for what?

LAURIE GRAHM: Florist Transworld delivery.

CINDY HIRSHBERG: Yes. That’s where you–

LAURIE GRAHM: And that’s the Mercury Man.

CINDY HIRSHBERG: –wire flowers to remote–


CINDY HIRSHBERG: –locations? Yes.

LAURIE GRAHM: Yeah. And that’s the– the source that we used to wire flowers back and forth, and, um, we still use that today. It’s just instead of it done– being done by– it used to be Florist Telegraph, right? Way back. And, well, nothing’s done by telegraph now.

CINDY HIRSHBERG: And Western Union.

LAURIE GRAHM: And Western Union, right. But now it’s all done via computers and electronically, and pretty much done just like email is.

And then, um, during that time, um, mom was actually hired to do some coordination for the National Funeral Directors Convention, and do decorations for them, and turn their convention into parties. So that’s exactly what happened.

CINDY HIRSHBERG: The funeral directors needed some help [INAUDIBLE].

LAURIE GRAHM: Yeah, they needed some help having– having a little bit of fun, or maybe having pretty fun. They were really good at having fun, but–


LAURIE GRAHM: So all of that was done. Um, my mom’s a professional commentator. And, um, you know, just lots of things that we’ve all done through the times. And my sister and I try to do a lot of those things too now.

And then just different conventions and decorating for the inaugurations in DC.


LAURIE GRAHM: In Washington.

CINDY HIRSHBERG: When you saw decorating for the inaugurations, do you mean there was a particular ball for which you were the selected, uh, company to– to do the decor, or–

LAURIE GRAHM: We had several different roles. Originally we started out as part of the design team, where they would bring in photos or drawings, renderings, and say, this is what we want to create, and we need 200 of those– or this is what we want to create, and we need, uh, 15 of these that are gonna be, uh, 6 foot across and 10 foot high. So–

CINDY HIRSHBERG: Did you find that a little overwhelming sometimes?

LAURIE GRAHM: Oh, no. There was a whole team through the Society of American Florists that just– a team of hundreds of designers.

CINDY HIRSHBERG: Sounds like fun.

LAURIE GRAHM: It was a blast. It was great. The security was a little interesting. We did the, um, Air and Space Museum at one point in time, and they always bring security in to sweep afterwards. And they bring the dogs, and they turn them loose, and they’re running around. And all of a sudden, this dog stops in the middle of the floor and he looks up. And we’re like, what is he looking at? And he’s looking at the airplane that’s hanging up 40 feet in the air.

So they had to lower the plane, let the dog take a look. And the dog’s like, oh, never mind. And they put the plane back up.


LAURIE GRAHM: [INAUDIBLE]. Put the plane back up to the ceiling. And it– it delayed everything for about an hour and a half. And– and then they check all the security to make sure that everyone that’s been in the building–

CINDY HIRSHBERG: And you got badges and–

LAURIE GRAHM: Oh yeah. You’re– you’re cleared way, way, way before, uh, you even get there. They do security clearance on everyone before they even go down to help. You can’t even be in where the flowers are without security.

EILEEN DUTTERER GIST: Can I get into this con–

CINDY HIRSHBERG: Please do, yes.

EILEEN DUTTERER GIST: Well, one of the other things that we thought was very interesting was the fact that at the convention center, they had a cake that was 12 foot tall. It was all made of plywood, and then it was icinged over, you know, as a centerpiece in the middle of the room. And they had big decals of the president’s seal and photographs of the different predi– presidents all in the icing.

And, uh, when we were ready to leave, they said, you all wait in the hall. And we waited for quite some time. And a little while later, they said the florists can leave, but the pastry chefs have to stay. And we said, tell us what’s going on. And they said, well, the dogs can’t smell what’s under the icing of the cake. So we’ve had to drill holes through the icing and the plywood so the dogs can sniff and see if there’s anything under– you know, under the– the plywood in the cake. And we’ll need the pastry chefs– chefs here to repair the icing.


EILEEN DUTTERER GIST: So it wa– it was very interesting. And then, uh, you know, we would work all night long. And they would take us by bus. And one night, everything was held up because the president’s motorcade was coming through to go to the, um, Texas ball. And our vans and– and, uh, buses couldn’t get out. So we were held up for an hour.

And, uh, it– it’s a very long, drawn-out, um, segment of work. We do all the functions that are sanctioned by the PIC committee, which is the Presidential Inaugural Committee. And then we do every floral need that is needed that whole week of the inauguration, from–

CINDY HIRSHBERG: That’s enormous.

EILEEN DUTTERER GIST: fundraisers to your religious service and luncheons, as well as, uh– as many as eight or nine balls.

CINDY HIRSHBERG: And each one of these has a unique design. It’s not [INAUDIBLE].

EILEEN DUTTERER GIST: Each one has a different design.

CINDY HIRSHBERG: –we’ll run across town and put this on the table, and it’ll be fine?



EILEEN DUTTERER GIST: [INAUDIBLE]. I was always in charge– or, well, for the five inaugurations that we were involved in, I was in charge of the delivery pool. After I helped design and it was ready for delivery time, I– I did the delivery pool. And we would have to divide vehicles, which could be 15 or 20 vehicles, to go to each of the different sites, especially the– the, uh, day before the ball so that we’d have everything there that night that they could work.

CINDY HIRSHBERG: Well, where was the space that these things were all put together?

EILEEN DUTTERER GIST: They hire uh, they– they actually rent a– a warehouse that is vacant at the time. And they go through some agency in Washington and find out where a warehouse is that is conducive for delivery, for parking, and– and so on. And then they bring in florists from each state so that the whole United States is covered with designing.

The flowers are donated by different, uh–


EILEEN DUTTERER GIST: Well, no. By the growers.


LAURIE GRAHM: And then of course we have the, uh, people that do all the supplies for the florist. And they donate all the supplies.

CINDY HIRSHBERG: Which is the oasis and the wire and–


EILEEN DUTTERER GIST: Everything is donated. And, uh, they supply us with rooms, and with our food, and with buses to transport us back and forth. And then we come in as a group and design.

CINDY HIRSHBERG: Wow. But– but the designs have been circulated so each team knows what they’re [INAUDIBLE].


EILEEN DUTTERER GIST: At one point they had party designers that they hired from Chicago, or Boston, or, you know, wherever there are big areas that do big party work. And then the last inauguration that we did, which was for Mr– or for President Bush, they let us do the designing of the arrangements–


EILEEN DUTTERER GIST: –which was very nice. And, uh, then we didn’t have to deal with the party designer, who was maybe not as conscious as to whether this would work–

CINDY HIRSHBERG: Not a flower person.


EILEEN DUTTERER GIST: and whether it would be we’d be able to transport it. You know, the concept was good, but not always can you transport it because some of them are 8 feet tall. For in the convention center, you had 8-foot-tall topiaries. And then you needed a box truck that you could put the 8-foot-tall topiary up and–

CINDY HIRSHBERG: Stand it upright.

EILEEN DUTTERER GIST: and secure it.


EILEEN DUTTERER GIST: You know? And one of them said, well, we’d like some 12 foot. And we said, no, that won’t work. And they said, well, why not? And we said, well, we can’t get them in the truck. And then, you know, they– they weren’t as savvy as we florists were, knowing how we could deliver them and what we could do.

LAURIE GRAHM: We have to be ingenious.

EILEEN DUTTERER GIST: You know, we– we did almost everything they wanted, but there were just little glitches like that that we’d say no, or– or they’d pick a flower that would not hold up.


EILEEN DUTTERER GIST: And we’d say there’s no way we–


EILEEN DUTTERER GIST: –can use that because it has to be done on Thursday and it’s not used till Friday night. And the flower does not have that ability, you know? there’s a lot of small, intricate little details like that that you work out as you go.

CINDY HIRSHBERG: So when it was all said and done, how did you feel about it?

EILEEN DUTTERER GIST: We loved it. Dead tired–

LAURIE GRAHM: It was great.

EILEEN DUTTERER GIST: –but we loved it.


EILEEN DUTTERER GIST: It was a wonderful experience to be involved in Washington during an inauguration.


EILEEN DUTTERER GIST: Wonderful experience.

CINDY HIRSHBERG: Did you get to go to see any of the balls, or you– you’re– you’re too tired?

LAURIE GRAHM: Oh, no. You were always slid a ticket, or at least to– to be able to go in and take a little look around afterwards, which was really fun.

EILEEN DUTTERER GIST: We were fortunate enough one year that we were able to go to the ball. And I have to tell you a funny story. We were in this motel– and I won’t mention who it was for, which president or anything. And it was not really the most desirable place to be.

So we were– went to the ball. We hired a lim– they hired a limo for us ’cause there were six couples of us that got tickets. And, um, they took us to the ball. Then they picked us up at 4:30 in the morning and took us back to the hotel.

And you stood at the ball the whole time. There was nowhere to sit down. You could drink. There was no food. But you just stood at the ball body for body because there were that many people there. Well, we got–

CINDY HIRSHBERG: I thought you were supposed to do dance at a ball?

EILEEN DUTTERER GIST: Honey, you didn’t dance at this ball.


EILEEN DUTTERER GIST: We were in a hotel ball.


EILEEN DUTTERER GIST: We weren’t at the convention center. We were at the– at the Hilton ball.


EILEEN DUTTERER GIST: And, uh, when we come back to the hotel, we got in bed. And I said to Kent, I hear a mouse. He said, Eileen, put your feet up in bed. I’m not getting up for any mouse or anything else this time of night. We have to be up at 7 o’clock, and it’s 5 o’clock now.

So I put my feet up in bed. And we got up and we went to breakfast, and I packed my suitcases. And I got on an airplane to go to Detroit for a board meetings.


EILEEN DUTTERER GIST: When I got to the hotel in Detroit and unpacked– I had always put my shoes in one bag and my clothes in the other. And when I got to Detroit, I hung my clothes up. And I opened my shoe bag, and I pull a– a shoe out. And here hung the dead mouse.

I called my husband. I thought, it’s no sense screaming. No one can hear me. So I called my husband and I said, I’m holding this shoe with that mouse from last night. Are you still arguing about that mouse? He says, go in the bathroom and have burial at sea.

So that’s my inaugural story, amongst many.

CINDY HIRSHBERG: Well, I noticed in– in the book, I thought I saw some floats– some floats? From parade floats?

LAURIE GRAHM: Oh, yeah. We did parade floats for downtown Westminster. And this year we’re doing more parade floats for downtown Westminster because we are trying to organize a light parade for, uh– for downtown Westminster for the holiday parade that is always the Saturday after Thanksgiving–


LAURIE GRAHM: –along with the city’s tree lighting. And, um, we’re gonna do, like, a little festival downtown afterwards.


LAURIE GRAHM: So now we’re gonna to do a light parade. We’ve never quite done one of those, so that’s the next little challenge, I guess, with the floats.

CINDY HIRSHBERG: A little learning curve.


EILEEN DUTTERER GIST: We hope we’re going to be the first town in Maryland that will do an electric parade–


EILEEN DUTTERER GIST: –which will be exciting. And any float that is registered as a part of the electric parade will have to have at least 2,500 lights on it.




EILEEN DUTTERER GIST: Now, that’s not so many when you think–


EILEEN DUTTERER GIST: That’s only 25 strings of Christmas lights.


EILEEN DUTTERER GIST: Think about it. That’s not so many. But think how beautiful it will be.

CINDY HIRSHBERG: You’ve never fallen over over three strings, have you?

EILEEN DUTTERER GIST: I won’t tell you what my husband calls them.


LAURIE GRAHM: I’ve been shocked really good on the back of a wedding band by one.

EILEEN DUTTERER GIST: But– but we think it will– will help the economy in Westminster, to bring that ma– to bring people here–


EILEEN DUTTERER GIST: –to see something totally different. And we have sort of tentative commitments from more than maybe 10 or 12 at this point. And we don’t even have all the– the specific dimensions and so [INAUDIBLE].

LAURIE GRAHM: [INAUDIBLE] extension cords worked out. Let’s say it that way.

EILEEN DUTTERER GIST: And we’re we’re working with the city in regards to inverters to invert the electric, uh, from, uh, the lights to a battery, to the car batteries. So it’s gonna be quite a challenge. But we’re looking forward to it because it could really be wonderful for– for Westminster.

CINDY HIRSHBERG: Well, it certainly keeps up the tradition of your family supporting our town.


CINDY HIRSHBERG: And I think everybody listening to this little clip is certainly gonna look forward to the– the electric floats.

EILEEN DUTTERER GIST: It’s gonna be exciting.

CINDY HIRSHBERG: Yes, it will.

EILEEN DUTTERER GIST: It’s gonna be exciting.

CINDY HIRSHBERG: [INAUDIBLE], I want to say thank you very much for your interview this morning.


CINDY HIRSHBERG: Uh, we’re gonna wrap it up and–


CINDY HIRSHBERG: –uh, invite all of our listeners to listen to this. Uh, when they listen to this particular clip, by all means, uh, take a moment to listen to yours, OK?


CINDY HIRSHBERG: Thank you very much. I appreciate your time this morning.

LAURIE GRAHM: Thank you very much.