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Cossairt still 'growing strong' after 120 years

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The 19,000-square-foot greenhouse at Cossairt Florist, 139 W. Boggstown Road, is a festival of scents and a blast of oxygen, and if the timing is right, some fresh fruit. Jim Cossairt said the family planted the banana tree to his rightin the 1930s after bringing it up from Florida, and it still bears fruit.
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For more than eightyears, Brandi Tobian has helped Cossairt customers in the flower shop next to the greenhouse.
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Preparing window boxes is just one of the duties Nancy Cossairt has in the greenhouse. She labels the assorted plants in each box for customers.
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A green thumb may be hereditary. Jessica Cossairt, 26, is thefifth generation of the family to be a florist. Her Ball State University degree is in marketing which she does for the business, but she wears many hats at the greenhouse.

By JOHN WALKER - jwalker@shelbynews.com

Say “Cossairts” to anyone who grew up in Shelbyville, and they immediately think flowers.

It’s no wonder, since the family has been in the flower business spanning three centuries and, now, five generations.

But it wasn’t always that way.

They started out as tobacco farmers in Vevay, said Jim Cossairt, a fourth-generation member of the family, who runs the local greenhouse and flower business, Cossairt Florist LLC.

After moving from Vevay in far southeastern Indiana to Shelbyville in the 1890s, his great-grandparents stayed in the farming business, at least initially. 

“I think they started out doing vegetables,” Jim said.

Then his great-grandmother began selling geraniums, and they were so popular eventually the family switched to flowers and never looked back. 

However, flowers are seasonal so in the 1890s the Cossairts built a greenhouse to grow them year-round. The greenhouse is still located in the same place, at 139 W. Boggstown Road.

Eventually the flower business grew to the point they needed an extra location.

“You can’t sell everything off a horse cart,” said Jim.

The Cossairt’s first flower shop opened in 1914. Then, in December 1919, the family relocated the shop to their long-time location on Broadway Street where Shelbyville Fire Station No. 1 is now.

So how has the flower business changed over the decades?

Like many other businesses, production facilities have become centralized, Jim said.

“It used to be virtually everything was locally produced,” he noted, but now a lot of flowers come from one or two wholesalers in Indianapolis.

Many flower varieties are grown in South America, and Florida used to grow quite a lot, Jim said, but now the land’s become too valuable because of residential development, though California still produces a fair amount of the cut flowers sold.

Cossairt still grows many of the flowers it sells, especially annuals such as petunias, geraniums and begonias.

“Really our specialty, our strong point is our annuals,” Jim said.

As is pretty much a requirement these days, Cossairt has a website, but the internet has impacted their business in positive and negative ways.

On the downside, a lot of so-called florists have popped up online that appear to be real flower shops but are actually just middlemen with no brick-and-mortar stores, Jim said. 

And the well-known FTD – Florists’ Transworld Delivery – which used to be owned by real florists is now owned by a venture capital firm, he noted.

On the upside, Jim said, the competition has sharpened their game.

“It’s made us more responsive for our business,” he said.