Originally created 06/12/06

Perfect arrangement



Driving through Augusta's Olde Town neighborhood, passers-by probably don't notice the little green stucco building on the lower end of Ellis Street.

Hidden within a long row of houses, McKeown Florist is a simple structure with no fancy window decorations or florescent signs. The only outdoor decor is the store name painted on the front in white cursive lettering and a few pictures of floral designs taped to a side window.

For the woman inside who's busy preparing flower arrangements, it's a special place.

Catherine McKeown Braid, 86, is part of the third generation of florists in her family, which has run the business for more than 100 years. Her grandmother started McKeown Florist in the same location at the end of the 19th century.

"She loved flowers and planted them all over creation," Mrs. Braid said. "One day a lady came by and said, 'Oh, those are pretty flowers, won't you sell me some?' And so she did."

After her grandmother died, her mother and father took over and her younger brothers and sisters helped out. When three of her brothers were drafted into World War II, Mrs. Braid left a job at Sears and Roebuck to assist in the shop.

"In my day, we learned the hard way," she said. "If you did it 15 times until it suited you, you did it 15 times. You learned by getting (flowers) in your hands."

Flowers used to be grown in a greenhouse behind the shop; now they're shipped in from all over the world. But not much else has changed. Orders are handwritten and filed in a box alphabetically. Rose stems are wrapped in wire to prevent wilting, a technique modern shops don't use, Mrs. Braid said.

Her son William helps with deliveries, but she arranges the flowers by herself.

Keeping business steady isn't as easy as it used to be, Mrs. Braid said, because most people don't know her shop exists.

"Augusta has moved," she said. "Broad Street used to be popular, but now people are in Martinez, Evans and Fort Gordon. I still have a few old customers, but most people don't know I'm here. Those who did live down here are gone, in heaven."

Nevertheless, Mrs. Braid perseveres. What makes it worthwhile, she said, are the hundreds of thank-you notes from satisfied customers she keeps sealed in a scrapbook.

"It's a pleasure anytime I can help anybody," she said.

On a shelf inside the store, the saying "You never fail until you stop trying" sits in a gold frame. That seems to sum up Mrs. Braid's attitude towards her business, and life.

"The only reason I keep working is because I don't know any other life," she said. "If I give up, it's the end of it."

Reach Lindsay Wilkes-Edrington at (706) 823-3332 or t.lindsay.wilkesedri@morris.com.

CATHERINE MCKEOWN BRAID

AGE: 86

FAMILY: Late husband William Braid; son, William Braid Jr.

OCCUPATION: Florist, McKeown Florist, 123 Ellis St.

QUOTE: "In my day we learned the hard way. If you had to do it 15 times until it suited you, you did it 15 times."