Jefferson Street is much as it was when it was designated as Route 66 – except for the lack of traffic. It will be busy Saturday night, though, when Webb City Florist holds a public party to celebrate the relighting of its neon sign.

The public's invited to the relighting party for Webb City Florist's neon sign at dusk Saturday

Bob Foos

Not since the ’50s, when it was still Route 66, has there been as much excitement on Jefferson Street as there will be at dusk Saturday when the restored Webb City Florist sign’s neon tubes are turned on.

Courtney Smith says restoring the sign was one of the things she wanted to do when she bought the business in 2021 but didn’t have the money.

She learned that the Route 66 Association of Missouri had approached Marcia Musgrove, her friend and former owner of the business, about adding the Webb City Florist sign to its list of relighting projects. It’s the same group that redid the neon circling Boots Court in Carthage.

“They were interested because our location on Route 66 was so unique,” says Courtney.

So Courtney contacted the organization in April 2021.

She says Rich Dinkela, the association president, was her advocate in the fundraising effort. It didn’t happen overnight, but Courtney realized her dream was real when she was told it was time to set the relighting date.

The goal to restore the sign was set at $6,500, and at last check, $6,077 had been raised. You can help reach the goal online.

“I’m expecting a great turnout from the Route 66ers,” says Courtney. “They’re the ones that are making this happen.”

She invites everyone to attend. The celebration, starting at 5:30 p.m. Saturday, will feature a tour of the historic business, desserts, decorated pumpkins, lots of flowers and a live band.

The real attraction, though, will be at 6:45 p.m., when the neon illuminates Jefferson Street as it did to attract Route 66 travelers.

Another guest Courtney will be excited to see is Loretta Parker, who owned Webb City Florist for 24 years and continued to work there for another 26 years until she retired in 2018.

Loretta and her husband, Mervin, sold the business in 1992 to their son and his wife, Mark and Ann Parker. They sold the business in 2002 to Kelly and Christy Cleveland, and Marcia Musgrove bought it in 2009.

Loretta Parker owned and worked at Webb City Florist for 50 years. This picture must have been taken around the time she and her husband, Mervin, bought the business in 1968. The sign, repainted and with new neon, will glow again Saturday night.

Restoring the greenhouses is next on Courtney Smith’s list of things to do.

After clearing out a dumpster load of junk from the back rooms, Courtney Smith stands by the boiler that used to warm the greenhouses and says, “The bones are still here.” Even though she doesn’t plan to start growing her own flowers, she wants to maintain the historic character of the property.

There are two entrances: facing 10th Street…

… and Jefferson Street.

Musgrove had worked in banking with Courtney’s grandmother and actually babysat Courtney.

“We have a strong relationship,” says Courtney. For awhile, in 2013 and 2014, she did office work at Webb City Florist for Musgrove.

Courtney moved to St. Louis after getting her bachelor’s degree in business at Pittsburg State University. She returned to earn her MBA at PSU and was working in the financial aid office at Missouri Southern State University when she got the opportunity to buy Webb City Florist.

“I just could not try for that,” says Courtney. “I knew Marcia was ready to sell.”

Once she was stable in the business, she began thinking of things to improve. “I would love to refurbish the greenhouses.”

It’s not that she needs the greenhouses. Unlike the old days, she can buy flowers from a local independent wholesaler that are ready for her to design.

Still, she appreciates the history of the business and hard work of the owners before her.

“I just feel so humble to be able to carry it on.”

Courtney Smith, the latest owner of Webb City Florist.

Flower arrangements have been sold at 1001 S. Jefferson St. going back maybe to 1900

Courtney has received help looking up the history of her business from Marilyn Clark at the Webb City Area Genealogical Society and Mark Parker.

She’s learned Oscar and Bertha Ferree built their house at 1001 S. Jefferson St. in 1900. Whether they started their flower business at the same time is a guess.

Jefferson Street – not Madison Street – was the main north-south street. So it was natural that it would become part of Route 66 when it became official in 1926.

The first Ferree Florist advertisement Courtney has been able to find was placed in 1938. The Ferrees apparently changed the name to Webb City Florist and Greenhouse in 1953. That’s when the sign says Webb City Florist was established.

Ralph and Ora Macrae bought the business in 1962 and operated it until selling it in 1968 to the Parkers.

Old pictures and other historical items Courtney has gathered will be on display Saturday.

She and her family have cleared out the back rooms formerly devoted to growing flowers, including a “dirt room” and machinery where dirt and fertilizer were mixed. Those rooms will be open to the public for the first time during the relighting celebration.

The house was separated from the shop long ago.

A tenant lives there now – not Courtney, which allows her to live in the beautiful countryside near Asbury, where she grew up. Her parents, Jeff and Carol Smith, and other family members also live there.

She credits them for helping her own her own business at the age of 29. “I owe it all to my parents. You’ll see them here Saturday night.”

Also at the top of her invitation list are the next door neighbors, Bud and Karolyn Corner, who have helped keep the back lot presentable over the years.

A recent addition is a whimsical mural on the 10th Street side featuring flowers and Route 66, of course.

Courtney says she hopes the neighbors appreciate the mural, and it lets “people know we’re a business and we’re here to serve – tucked back in such a residential spot.”

Courtney says she sees the former owners of Webb City Florist as her role models. Because of them, she says customers “know when they come here they’re going to be taken care of.”

It’s a special time for Courtney: carrying on a legacy business and having an organization pay to restore her historic sign.

“It’s a dream, let me tell ya.”