For nearly half a century, Tom Feldewerth, shopkeeper at The Flower Petaler on South Main Street-St Charles, has delighted generations of area families with items such as custom flower arrangements, home decor items, antiques, and lamps, but most importantly, with his open door and generous heart. For many patrons, a pilgrimage to The Flower Petaler has even become a family tradition; people that grew up going to his store with their parents will often return with kids of their own, and the ritual becomes even more established.
At certain times of the year, the shop is especially festive. During Christmas, Easter, and fall, the entire downstairs is transformed into a beautiful depiction of the corresponding holiday or season. He has recently added Karen Didion Original Santas to his Christmas collection.
Even though technology, new trends, and even the pace of life has changed dramatically over the decades, people know they can always find a haven in his shop.
Tom has an amazing memory, which definitely helps make people feel special, because of his recall of details they have shared with him over the years. He also hands out cookies, a tradition that he appropriated from a lady who once served him a treat in her own shop. Also, besides being a good listener, and offering refreshments, Tom clearly wants to make things comfortable otherwise for every visitor that comes inside. In an age where the number of establishments who offer public restrooms is declining, Tom has bucked this trend, knowing that shoppers would appreciate this amenity. However, it doesn’t matter if they decide to make a purchase or just look around. All visitors, young and old, are welcome to come and browse the shelves, get a bite to eat, and just enjoy the atmosphere.
That welcome extends to individuals of the animal kingdom as well. Once, many years ago, a stray kitten came to his store. Tom and his crew cared for her, and paid for her to get the proper medical treatment. In the years following, the shop would eventually come to host around 500 of these creatures (but not all at once!) who needed rescuing. Tom was very glad that he had the resources to do this, but remains humble about his part in the matter. For him, giving back to the community is simply the right thing to do. It is no surprise, then, that in addition to the complimentary “people treats” he offers, he will often put water dishes outside for his four-legged customers. Yes, even pets are welcome to come “shop” with their owners, in keeping with his desire to make everyone feel at home.
This warm atmosphere he wanted to promote in his shop was already at play in his previous job as well. Feldewerth hasn’t always designed flower arrangements or sold home decor. In the late sixties to the late seventies, he was a teacher at the Ft. Zumwalt school district, covering the subjects of French and English. However, even though it has been several decades since he stood in front of a chalkboard, it comes as no surprise that many of his students still remember him and contact him. For his recent 75th birthday, over a hundred of them sent birthday wishes, for example. Clearly, he has always connected well with people, and they remember and appreciate that.
While his store now spans almost twenty rooms, and is about fifteen thousand square feet in size, it wasn’t always that way. Before he ever opened up shop, he said he was “very intrigued” with the St. Charles area. He began to do a little research, asking about rental prices and availability, etc. Eventually he secured one room in the Crow’s Nest, which wasn’t an ideal location, but was definitely a good place to start. It was located way up off the street, and customers had to take a circuitous route up and down some stairs just to reach him. At the time, his first employee, his sister Mary Swinney, was working for him, and she said he needed to do something “irresistible” to shift the dynamics a bit and increase sales. He would stand on the sidewalk and ask people to come up, and once they reached his shop, Mary would charm them with her effervescent personality. Naturally, this led to more and more sales, which in turn allowed his business to grow so that he could eventually have the means to operate everything from a better location.
Back in the early days of his business, in the beginning of the 1970s, this first little rented room was just one of about ten shops in the area. Over time, he transitioned from renting to buying, and then from this initial room to nearly a score of them: as the neighbors would move out The Flower Petaler would often acquire their unit, expanding many times over the years. The buildings he owns are all original–they are from 1810, which predates the founding of Missouri by almost a dozen years, and which perfectly suit a shop like his. Sometimes, major restoration was needed, however, to bring the newly acquired quarters up to par with the existing shop, and to maintain continuity of decor. One expansion even required gutting almost down to the frame.
In addition to the metamorphosis of the Flower Petaler’s physical layout, its product line has also changed somewhat over the years. While Tom has always offered traditional flower arrangements, certain colors will trend, and sometimes certain flowers are in demand at one time more than another. His antiques are unique–he doesn’t know of other places that offer the same exact pieces that he does. Nowadays, in addition to florals, he also offers lamps, furniture, and other home decor items. One thing that has remained constant over the years, however, is that Tom himself still personally designs flower arrangements; although he is in his seventies, a “septuagenarian,” he says, he thankfully has been blessed with good health to continue doing that. It was this desire for freedom and creativity that first drew him to open up this kind of shop, after all.
Tom hasn’t kept this creative and generous spirit just to himself and his patrons, however. While the people who have passed through his shop over the years have definitely been beneficiaries of his kindness, others beyond the walls of his business have been recipients of his generosity as well. He is a supporter of the Crisis Nursery, and funded their first garden party. He is also a benefactor of the Five Acre Animal Shelter. As mentioned earlier, hundreds of stray cats have found sanctuary and help in Tom, before they went to their forever homes. Also, as previously mentioned, were the students whose lives he invested in, during the decade before becoming self-employed. From the classroom to the Calla Lily, he has always been one to give back to his community.
PHOTOS BY MICHAEL SCHLUETER