‘Very Blessed’: Moreton owners and employees celebrate 50 years in business in Natchez – Mississippi’s best community newspaper

‘Very blessed’: Moreton owners, employees celebrate 50 years in business in Natchez

Published at 4:00pm Thursday, September 14, 2023

NATCHEZ — Blair Zerbe, who grew up in Columbus, Ohio, spent summers with his family in his mother’s hometown of Jonesville, Louisiana, and the surrounding area, including Natchez.

His mother had seven sisters, one of whom owned Weber’s Flower Shop in Ferriday.

Blair studied under Ohio State University’s floriculture program, thinking he would spend his career in horticulture and landscaping.

After graduating from college in Ohio, Zerbe continued his education at the Chicago School of Floral Art and Design. During that period his Aunt Violet called from Ferriday to tell him that Julian and Terry Moreton, who had run Moreton’s Flower Shop in Natchez for 25 years, were selling their business.

“You better get down here,” Brenda Zerbe told him.

Blair, then 24, came to Natchez to look at the work. He happened to be dating Brenda Burns, 22, of Marysville, Ohio, who is also an Ohio State graduate and planned a career teaching home economics.

Zerby obtained a three-month option to buy Moreton’s, which at the time was located in a former filling station at the corner of Main Street and Canal Street, where the Natchez Convention Center now stands.

“In May 1973, he came back to Ohio and brought me a magnolia. It had an engagement ring inside it,” Brenda Zerbe said. “I said yes, blindly. Blair was here and I went down with his parents. “Natchez was a wonderful surprise.”

Fifty years later, Blair, Brenda and their daughter Bethany, who today runs Moreton’s, will celebrate Friday at the store at 629 Franklin St. with an open house from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. It’s a chance to say thank you to Natchez and their many customers and remember the memories made. Made over the last 50 years.

“It was originally a corner drive through filling station that was renovated. It had great windows and Blair really used them,” Zerbe said.

When they bought the company in 1973, the Zerby family had a 10-year lease on the main building and canal building. After 10 years, the building owner decided not to renew the lease.

“Blair said he wanted to buy a building, stay downtown, and it had to have good windows,” she said.

They settled in the building at 629 Franklin Street, which was a unique dollar store.

“We went from 700 square feet to 4,000 square feet. She would help us figure out how to best use the space,” said Lynn McNeely, an architect here at the time.

They put up a wall to separate the front part of the building, which will be used for retail, from the back, which will serve as a store or work space.

“Blair placed the gazebo section in the center of the facade of the building and put in several walls,” which will be used for the various display areas of the store.

He also made great use of the building’s windows for ever-changing displays.

“We were very fortunate that the flower shop gave us the opportunity to meet so many people,” Brenda Zerbe said.

She was a trade teacher and had a degree in home economics. She wasn’t planning on working in the flower shop with Blair.

“I interviewed with the school district and they told me they had an opening for a high school chemistry teacher. She said, ‘Well, I studied a lot of chemistry, but I didn’t want to teach it.’ “We were renting a little apartment down Belvedere, next to Dunleith. I walked down the street to Braden’s school and told them I was available to substitute teach, which I did for a few months.

By December of that first year, with the help of accountants, Brenda and Blair decided to make Moreton a family affair.

Everyone has been very friendly and very accepting. We were just little kids. “Blair grew a mustache to make himself look older,” Brenda said.

As Ohio State alumni who moved to the middle of the Southeastern Conference, the Zerbys have gotten their fair share of ribbing this football season from Ole Miss, Mississippi State and LSU fans here.

“People here would call us and say, ‘We’re watching you on TV, and you’re not feeling well,'” she said. Other times, the Zerby family makes calls to SEC friends here.

The Zerbys soon became heavily involved in the city’s newcomers club at the time.

“That was a really great experience,” she said. “We stayed involved with that group for a long time. In fact, when we moved into the new building, the club had a lot of people and needed a lot of space, so we put up shop and set up the Newcomers Couples Bridge here on Saturday nights.”

The Zerbys’ goal has been to keep up with changes in the floral industry.

“We wanted to make sure our business was growing and changing. We had children that we raised here and we wanted opportunities for them here as well. We tried to keep everything positive and show people that everything that can be found in a big city can be found here in Natchez,” Brenda said. “.

The Zerbies are parents to three children: Bethany, 46, Bourne, 42, and Byron, 39. Bourne and Byron live in Metairie, Louisiana, and are married with two children.

Daughter Bethany left Natchez to move to Austin, Texas, to attend college at Concordia University. After student teaching, she took a position in San Antonio and taught for 14 years.

“That’s when we had the opportunity to come back to Natchez and she ran the store for us,” Brenda said.

Because of Natchez, the Zerbes have enjoyed opportunities they might not have had anywhere else, such as working with those who make films in Natchez.

“When Blair was here during his store option, they were filming the movie Huckleberry Finn. He got involved in that and helped figure out things like how to recreate cotton bales. Over the years, Natchez has been a popular attraction for movies and even TV shows. The TV series The Mississippi with Ralph White hired Blair to come in and do the props and stay on set to help put them in. “Over the years, he was able to have a lot of fun working with the cast and crew and trying to provide them with Natchez hospitality,” she said.

“We’re still Yankees, but we love the South, especially at football time,” Blair said.

As for the flower trade, it, like most other industries, has undergone many changes.

“I think sometimes people have a false sense of what it means to be in a flower shop,” Brenda said. “The work is very rewarding, but some days are very difficult. The world of flowers has become more efficient in many ways, and the Life Series helps us ensure that these flowers are at their best, but the ease of access gives us the opportunity to offer so much more to people.

Moreton’s Flowerland staff especially enjoy designing flowers for weddings.

“Natchez is a perfect destination for weddings. We love working with so many brides. They come with the images they want and give us a chance to expand our creativity. Flower arranging is an art form, but it has to be accomplished in a short period of time,” she added.

The flower business is a business driven by passion.

“We’ve built so many wonderful relationships. Now, when brides come, we often say we did the flowers for their mother’s wedding,” Brenda said. “Excited people come in and want flowers for engagements, weddings and birthdays. They also need flowers for funerals upon death, and we are happy to be in a position to provide that comfort.

“We have a lot of clients who come in and say, ‘You know my wife. “Go around and help me find something you think she’ll like,” Brenda said. “That’s the great thing about being a small town and being in the middle of the city and not in a mall somewhere. We know the people, the merchants and the businesses in town and we’re very compatible with each other.”

She said the store’s great team of employees helped make the business a success.

“We have been very fortunate over the years to have a fantastic team of staff to do anything and everything, including long hours, to make Moreton the special place it was.”

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