Carlyle Flower Shop Flourishes Under Morrison, Toss


Bryan Rubin, Photo editor

Gifts and cards line the shelves of Carlyle Flower Shop. The store’s longtime owners plan to celebrate Carlyle’s 80th anniversary this year.

Vida Weisblaum, Managing Editor

Lorraine Morrison loves kites. “They’re wonderful,” she says, a glimpse of amazement in her eye as she paints the air with her palms. The owner of Carlyle Flower Shop at 17 West College Street knew just what would add character to her store, even if former owner Grace Harlow disapproved of her kites.

Morrison is reserved and deliberate in her speech, but her memory is vivid. She knows Oberlin better than most. Her flower shop, nestled between other historic shops like Gibson’s Bakery and Ben Franklin’s Five and Dime, has been a staple in the city for 81 years and has flourished through many iterations and evolutions. According to Morrison’s sister Francine Toss, the store will retroactively honor its 80-year milestone sometime in 2016.

From the look of Carlyle’s big pink awning and inviting window displays, it’s clear that what lies within is warm and welcoming. The store’s resident shelties Misty and Molly greet customers, shepherd them to the florists at the back of the store and receive treats in return. Toss and Morrison credit many of their friendships to their pets.

Carlyle’s cozy walls are lined with greeting cards, gifts of all sorts and festive decorations. A human-sized chocolate Easter bunny sits atop a table next to a bin of chocolate eggs. The women who work there are equally warm and inviting; they thrive by fostering a sense of community.

Carlyle has been owned and operated by women ever since it opened in 1935. Its original owner, Rachel Rowdan, ran the business from an upstairs room at the Oberlin Inn until 1950, when it was purchased by Peggy Glass and moved to the Martin Inn on East College Street. After Pauline Habecker bought the store in the late ’50s, the business traveled around, making its home at 21 East College Street next to the Apollo Theater, then at 42 South Main Street, where The Oberlin News-Tribune offices are currently located. The store then migrated to 27 West College, which is currently home to the restaurant Tooo Chinoise after Harlow and her sister Elizabeth Martin bought the business.

In 1986, the Gibson family, which has operated Gibson’s Bakery since 1905, purchased that building, giving Morrison and her sister leave to purchase the shop. Morrison, who had just retired from her job with the Lorain school system, moved the store to its current location at 17 West College Street. With that, her new career began to flower.

Before putting roots down in Oberlin, Morrison attended Muskingum University and the graduate program at Kent State University. Her sister began graduate studies in teaching at Oberlin College in 1969, establishing herself within the small college town. A teacher and later principal in Eastwood Local School District, where she is now a librarian, Toss knew the store well and often stopped by with her sister, becoming rather close with former owner Harlow.

“We loved it,” Morrison said. “We’ve always liked their gift items. We got along very well with Grace Harlow, the owner at the time.”

The women were also fond of the store’s holiday open house — a tradition they have continued throughout the years.

“In going to [the open house] we got to know her, got to know everything about [the store], and we thought it was a wonderful experience,” Morrison said. “It became available and we just sort of decided it would be a fun thing to do.”

Since their purchase, the women have seen visitors from all parts of town. Students, Oberlin residents and tourists all frequent the shop, bringing with them a variety of requests.

“It almost has a Cracker Barrel effect,” Toss told me, jokingly. “They talk, and they talk, and they talk. They share ideas, they share their plans and their wishes. We help them fulfill those wishes.”

According to Morrison, the store boasts an impressive variety of flowers in comparison to other stores in the area, with lilies and roses being the most popular. Gerbera daisy sales have also spiked in recent years.

“[The flowers] are from all over the world,” Morrison said. “[We have] just about everything that grows. Always a very, very nice selection.”

Not only does the store cater to weddings, baby showers and funerals, but it also routinely works with Oberlin College’s arts departments, providing flower designs for recitals, the Allen Memorial art museum and various events.

Karen Buckingham, a designer at the store, emphasized the diversity of design opportunity as a virtue of being located on a small campus.

“[Carlyle Shop] is very versatile because of the College,” she said. “You have large orders, you have small orders, you have presentation bouquets, you have the artists’ recitals, and there’s always something going on. I’ve worked in other flower shops, but you seem to have more opportunity even with the students, who are from all over, with the large body of different kinds of flowers we carry.”

Carlyle Shop is used to adapting to its customers needs. Toss said the store tends to watch for trends within the town and provides gifts and items other stores might not carry.

Since people now entertain less formally, they’ve adopted a more casual aesthetic, she added.

“We’re doing more boutique things,” Toss said. “When we bought the shop, they weren’t doing any of that.”

Toss herself designs handmade albino squirrel cards and appeared enthusiastic about an exclusive T-shirt that she had designed. Her sister emphasized Toss’s zeal for Charley Harper designs. “She goes nuts over Charley Harper,” Morrison said. Morrison’s son, a photographer, has designed photo cards that are handmade in the store.

Morrison added that the store has changed a great deal since it first placed kites in its windows.

“What we’re finding right now is that people aren’t so much into gift-giving,” she said. “But they’re more into gift cards. And we’re sort of hoping that maybe it’ll turn a little bit, because we believe in the gift-giving.”

The women remain close friends with neighboring business owners who have also enjoyed many years in downtown Oberlin.

“We all know each other and get along and help each other out,” Morrison said.

Both women emphasized that community is the reason the store keeps thriving. “We have a longstanding policy of non-profit provision for churches,” Morrison wrote in a letter. “We have cared for and mentored not only youth but the elderly. We are there for the important moments in our customers’ lives. … We even provided a full Thanksgiving dinner for athletes who couldn’t get home for Thanksgiving. We are there even if you just want to come in and talk. The important part is that we listen.”