Melissa Walsh

Small business, big history

Grosse Pointe News | March 29th, 2018 | News: Small business, big history

Charvat

Small business, big history

By Melissa Walsh

Grosse Pointe Farms — An empty lot was at the corner of Mack and Calvin avenues until 1950, when Jay and Dave Charvat’s grandfather, Louis, father, Bud, and uncle, Bob, built a flower shop on the location.

This was not the launch of Charvat The Florist, but a chapter in its 125 years in business.

“We’re like a small business with a big history, but no one really knows it,” said Dave Charvat.

The Detroit Historical Museum acknowledged the store’s history, however, including Charvat The Florist as a “Streets of Old Detroit” business.

In the 1880s, the Charvat brothers’ great grandfather, Wendell Charvat, a recent immigrant from Bohemia who settled in the Czech neighborhood of Detroit, found work as a gardener for a large Detroit estate. It wasn’t long before he began growing flowers in his own backyard and selling them to neighbors.

The original Charvat “the florist” found his niche and opened the first Charvat The Florist shop in 1893 at Rowena and Hastings.

“That was a great spot for him to open up because that was where all the wholesale houses were back then,” said Dave Charvat, 60, of Grosse Pointe Farms, who runs the shop today with brother, Jay, 64, of Grosse Pointe Woods.

In 1917, Wendell Charvat relocated to a property at Mack and Sheridan, where the first building ever built on Mack stood — a general store, which he demolished to build a new, modern structure.

In 1949, his son, Louis — Jay and Dave’s grandfather — sold that structure to a church to relocate closer to his home on Yorkshire in Grosse Pointe Park. The store at the current location opened Sept. 29, 1950.

As Dave and Jay grew up in the Woods with their two sisters, Linda and Sally, they spent a great deal of time helping out in the family business, employed there by their early teens. At age 16 and driving they were making deliveries to help out.

“With a family business, you get hoodwinked into everything,” Dave said. “If there was a holiday, we worked.”

Graduating from Grosse Pointe North High School, the brothers continued their education at Michigan State University, Jay studying horticulture and business and Dave horticulture and communication arts.

Jay and Dave enjoy their business, which has been building flower arrangements in Detroit longer than the Big Three have been building cars in Detroit.

“We got to work with our dad, which was really cool,” said Dave of his father, Bud, who still worked there at age 90.

Chris Coderre, who has worked at the store 34 years said, “My dad worked here, too.”

“We’re really lucky to work where we live,” said Dave.

“We don’t have to check traffic reports in the morning,” added Jay.

“We don’t get too many snow days though,” said Barb Smith, who has worked there 35 years and is Coderre’s sister-in-law.

The four floral stylists — Jay, Dave, Barb and Chris — each bring their own design specialties and make arrangements for regular clientele. Often, Dave explained, the floral stylist taking the order also arranges it.

Customers may dip into the candy dish consistently full on the service counter, an offering begun and enforced by Grandma Irene Charvat.

“We’d catch hell if it was empty,” Jay said of his grandmother’s influence.

Dave’s dog, Finnegan, works at the store as a greeter and Charvat The Florist ambassador. Regular customers pay him with dog treats.

“The dog helps if you’ve had a bad day,” said Dave.

About being in a family business his entire career, Dave admitted, “Working with family you’re going to have flareups, but this kind of business is fun.

“We could get an MBA and find out we’ve done everything wrong,” he added, “but 125 years later we’re still here. You just got to treat people right.”