Couple grows deep roots with Fort Smith business

FORT SMITH — Bill and Jo Neumeier closed Neumeier Nursery and Florist last month after 54 years in the blooming business.

The nursery started out of married couple Bill and Jo Neumeier’s home in 1968. Soon, their three kids and greenhouses outgrew the space. They moved their home and business in 1976 almost directly across the street to the historical 3327 N. O St. house, which was built in 1904.

The five acres provided the perfect location to add greenhouses and open a floral shop in the original carriage house.

Jo Neumeier recalled that Bill was against having a floral shop, having worked at one when he was in college. She said a friend was interested in working the floral department for them, but Bill said not until he dies or a cooler falls out of heaven.

“So a cooler fell out of heaven,” she said. “It really did. Bill’s brother worked for a company that was taking things from storage buildings that people didn’t pay, and they’d say ’empty that one and dump it.’ Well, one of them had a cooler in it. A big, old cooler. So he drove up here and said ‘I just can’t take this to the dump. This is too good.’ He said ‘would you all like it?’ So Bill called my friend and said a cooler fell out of heaven. Two weeks later, he came to work for us.”

The Neumeiers’ daughter, Lisa Hearn, noted the friend was Clancy Armstrong, who later started Expressions Flowers off of Garrison Avenue.

Jo Neumeier said they didn’t even have a compressor for the cooler for a while.

“So Clancy would come to work every morning with a big block of ice, and we put a fan in the cooler and blew it onto the ice to keep our flowers cool,” she said. “We did that every morning. And finally, we had enough money to buy a compressor, so we put that on and were off and running.”

Hearn remembered other unusual times about living and working at the nursery, including making pots out of roofing for customers to take them home, because plastic pots weren’t made at the time. They also became recyclers early on.

“The kids learned to be humble, because we went to grade school at St. Boniface School, they got those cans from the lady at the cafeteria,” Hearn said. “So she’d dump the green beans and corn, and there we would be with those nasty cans in a black plastic bag after school, and I’d be like ‘Please don’t let anyone see us.'”

Jo Neumeier said the last few years at the nursery saw a boom in business due to covid-19 and people having more time for hobbies. She said it’s nice to see the younger generation getting into planting, too.

“My granddaughter has a shop over in Shawnee, Okla. Of course, that’s a young person running a shop. When I went to visit it, I was a little surprised because where I kept lots of things, hers was very stark. It was like clay pots and plants, and that was it, and she was booming. They were selling rooted cuttings, which we would’ve never thought of doing. It’s just a whole new generation that’s interested in plants, and it’s great,” she said . “It’s really great.”

Jo Neumeier and Hearn said running their family business helped teach future generations of the family how to sprout their own businesses, and that many of them enjoy planting as a hobby.

Neumeier said she was surprised about the public’s response to the nursery closing at the end of July.

“I’ve gotten cards. One of them said they’re a fourth generation shopping here. That was very touching,” Neumeier said. “I guess that just surprised me the most, that people were so connected with the nursery, that it meant so much to them. I hate to take it away. I think it was that homey feeling.”

Hearn said she thinks people have grown personal connections with the nursery and staff because of their level of service compared to larger chains.

“You might show up and say, ‘I have all shade in my yard,’ so that person is going to take you through and go ‘well this is everything that’s going to work in your yard.’ And then they box it, and then they put it into your car and then they walk you up there. So that person, when they come back they’re like ‘I want Tanya, because Tanya knew exactly what I’ve got in my yard and she knows what will fit.’ So it’s that service,” Hearn explained.

“If we could turn the clock back we’d stay, because we love it. But we’re getting older, and you just can’t do this forever,” Neumeier said. She added that they can’t sell the business because it’s also their home.

Jo is 79, and Bill is 82.

Jo Neumeier said they’ll still garden for their personal enjoyment, and that they’ll announce on Facebook when they plan to open to the public for photography or simply enjoying the garden. She said she loves the Audrey Hepburn quote ‘To plant a tree is to believe in tomorrow,’ and she hopes the nursery has left that impact in Fort Smith.

“It’s never too late to plant,” she said. “It’s the future, whether it’s for you or somebody else.”

Bill Neumeier, 83, walks around a greenhouse on Wednesday, July 13, 2022, at Neumeier Nursery and Greenhouses in Fort Smith. After 54 years in business, Neumeier and his wife Jody announced that they will be retiring and closing up shop at the end of this month. The couple opened the business across the street from its current location at 3327 North O Street in 1968. Having started with just two greenhouses and a cold frame, they eventually expanded to the 5.7-acre property in 1976, adding more greenhouses and turning a carriage house for horses into a floral and gift shop. In addition to having their children help run the business over the years, the Neumeiers employ 10 part-time and full-time staff members, including one who has been working there for 34 years. In honor of their retirement, the Neumeiers have been discounting up to 75 percent off their products over the final weeks until the business closes. Visit nwaonline.com/220714Daily/ for today’s photo gallery. (NWA Democrat-Gazette/Hank Layton)
photo Bill Neumeier, 83, walks around a greenhouse on Wednesday, July 13, 2022, at Neumeier Nursery and Greenhouses in Fort Smith. After 54 years in business, Neumeier and his wife Jody announced that they will be retiring and closing up shop at the end of this month. The couple opened the business across the street from its current location at 3327 North O Street in 1968. Having started with just two greenhouses and a cold frame, they eventually expanded to the 5.7-acre property in 1976, adding more greenhouses and turning a carriage house for horses into a floral and gift shop. In addition to having their children help run the business over the years, the Neumeiers employ 10 part-time and full-time staff members, including one who has been working there for 34 years. In honor of their retirement, the Neumeiers have been discounting up to 75 percent off their products over the final weeks until the business closes. Visit nwaonline.com/220714Daily/ for today’s photo gallery. (NWA Democrat-Gazette/Hank Layton)
photo Bill Neumeier, 83, walks around a greenhouse on Wednesday, July 13, 2022, at Neumeier Nursery and Greenhouses in Fort Smith. After 54 years in business, Neumeier and his wife Jody announced that they will be retiring and closing up shop at the end of this month. The couple opened the business across the street from its current location at 3327 North O Street in 1968. Having started with just two greenhouses and a cold frame, they eventually expanded to the 5.7-acre property in 1976, adding more greenhouses and turning a carriage house for horses into a floral and gift shop. In addition to having their children help run the business over the years, the Neumeiers employ 10 part-time and full-time staff members, including one who has been working there for 34 years. In honor of their retirement, the Neumeiers have been discounting up to 75 percent off their products over the final weeks until the business closes. Visit nwaonline.com/220714Daily/ for today’s photo gallery. (NWA Democrat-Gazette/Hank Layton)
photo Bill Neumeier, 83, walks with his dog Toby on Wednesday, July 13, 2022, at Neumeier Nursery and Greenhouses in Fort Smith. After 54 years in business, Neumeier and his wife Jody announced that they will be retiring and closing up shop at the end of this month. The couple opened the business across the street from its current location at 3327 North O Street in 1968. Having started with just two greenhouses and a cold frame, they eventually expanded to the 5.7-acre property in 1976, adding more greenhouses and turning a carriage house for horses into a floral and gift shop. In addition to having their children help run the business over the years, the Neumeiers employ 10 part-time and full-time staff members, including one who has been working there for 34 years. In honor of their retirement, the Neumeiers have been discounting up to 75 percent off their products over the final weeks until the business closes. Visit nwaonline.com/220714Daily/ for today’s photo gallery. (NWA Democrat-Gazette/Hank Layton)
photo Bill Neumeier, 83, walks with his dog Toby on Wednesday, July 13, 2022, at Neumeier Nursery and Greenhouses in Fort Smith. After 54 years in business, Neumeier and his wife Jody announced that they will be retiring and closing up shop at the end of this month. The couple opened the business across the street from its current location at 3327 North O Street in 1968. Having started with just two greenhouses and a cold frame, they eventually expanded to the 5.7-acre property in 1976, adding more greenhouses and turning a carriage house for horses into a floral and gift shop. In addition to having their children help run the business over the years, the Neumeiers employ 10 part-time and full-time staff members, including one who has been working there for 34 years. In honor of their retirement, the Neumeiers have been discounting up to 75 percent off their products over the final weeks until the business closes. Visit nwaonline.com/220714Daily/ for today’s photo gallery. (NWA Democrat-Gazette/Hank Layton)

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