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The Dart: Floral experience helps run shop for one local family

LAUREN WOOD / THE NATCHEZ DEMOCRAT — Husband and wife Bill and Jessie Lewis of B&J Flowers have been operating their family-owned business from their home on Concord Street for the last five years. Bill has been working as a florist since 1969.

NATCHEZ — Bill Lewis was busy constructing a wreath of roses when The Dart landed on his Concord Avenue house Wednesday afternoon.

For Lewis, the small shop out back is his natural habitat as a florist, and his hobby has allowed him to run a florist business for the past five years.

“It’s just something to do I guess,” Lewis said.

Lewis got started in the flower business after graduating from Holy Family Catholic School in 1969.

“I started working at Ja’Nel’s (Flowers and Gifts) when I got out of high school,” Lewis said. “I just picked it up from there.”

Lewis worked for almost 40 years at Ja’Nel’s Flowers and Gifts, and former co-workers Betty Thornhill, Ruth Mangum and Ruby Kelly took Lewis under their wing and taught him the skills of a florist. After so many years at Ja’Nel’s, Lewis said he was ready to start his own business. He works with both artificial and real flowers, as well as live plants, and he also makes fruit and snack baskets. His wife, Jessie, a retired teacher, helps with the business, but all of the hands-on work is Bill’s responsibility.

“She does the paperwork, and I mostly do the florist stuff,” Lewis said. “Sometimes my kids deliver for me, but it’s mostly just me and my wife. She also does ribbons.”

Jessie said she also helps deliver the finished products, and she’ll occasionally help her husband with some of the simpler flower arrangements. After 32 years of working separately, she said working together with her husband has been a blessing.”

LAUREN WOOD / THE NATCHEZ DEMOCRAT — Bill Lewis creates a funeral arrangement Friday afternoon in the building next to his house on Concord Street. He and his wife Jessie run B&J Flowers, and Bill said he can be found working at any time of the day or night because of his home business.

“It’s strengthening our marriage,” Jessie said. “We’re learning to appreciate each other a little more than we had been. It sounds sort of strange, but it’s really helped us.”

Currently Bill doesn’t have much space in his small shop, since he recently acquired inventory from another area business.

“There was a shop in Meadville that went out of business, so a bought a lot from her, and don’t really know where to put it,” Bill said. “But she had a lot of good stuff.”

Most of his regular business is for funerals, and Bill said business has been pretty good as of late.

“We do some hospital stuff, like if someone wants to give flowers for a patient, but not as much as we used to,” Bill said.

Since it’s the only kind of work he’s ever known, Bill said he’s glad he enjoys being a florist.

“I like doing it a lot,” Bill said. “I’m at home, so I work all the time. Whenever I can, I’ll come out and work.”

Jessie said her husband enjoys the tranquility of working with flowers and the imaginative process behind the work.

“He loves the creativity, and I guess just working with his hands,” Jessie said. “He gets off to himself, and he can go up into the night with it. It doesn’t matter if it’s fresh or silk, it sort of seems to ease situations. It’s a calming thing with him.”

With his wife retired, flowers are the main activity for them both.

“This is all we do now, except grandkids,” Bill said.