Family plants deep roots in Hub City

“You don’t have to be crazy to work here, we’ll teach you.”

It’s a saying that rings true for Joyce Hicks, who started Blooms, A Gardening Shop in Hattiesburg in 2004. The saying was on a small plaque she sold in the store at one time. The staff, which has become part of her bigger family, would probably concur.

Now, in addition to Blooms, she and daughter, Adrienne, and son-in-law, Bill Garanich, have added to the zaniness that is their every- day life. In addition to Bloom’s, located in the Bakery Building downtown, there’s the Bay Bed and Breakfast on Bay Street, Cotton Ginnovations in Sumrall, and Celebrations, the most recent purchase, off North 40th Avenue in Hattiesburg. There are two grandchildren, who help run things and are fixtures at all the businesses.

Working alongside family members the better part of six days a week, usually more than 8 hours a day and some day literally round the clock,  isn’t necessarily something most families could handle, but for the Hicks/Garanich crew, it seems to work pretty good.

Even before Hicks starts telling her family’s story, she’s already emotional. “We cry about everything, if it’s sentimental,” Joyce explained.

 “And if she cries, I cry,” added Adrienne.

Must have something to do with the fact that much of their clientele is brides.

 

Off to NOLA

Hicks grew up in Sumrall, but has lived in Hattiesburg longer than she was in Sumrall. She lost her one-time bid to become mayor of the small town by just one vote.

The mother of two (she also has a son, Jordan) was working for BellSouth and had gone back to school in Marriage and Family Therapy, when she went to New Orleans one weekend with a friend to see the Claude Monet exhibit. But the women got involved in other things and arrived too late to view the exhibit. So they headed off to Aux Belles Choses, a small garden shop on Magazine Street.

 “There were a bunch of little shops there,” said Hicks, her voice beginning to quiver. But she loved Au Belles. “I never wanted to leave there. It was just this feeling.”

At this point, Garanich gets up to find a box of tissues.

“On the way home I mentioned I’d love to have a garden shop,” she said. Knowing that the Hub City didn’t have this type of business, she thought it would be something she’d like to do. When mentioning the idea to friends, they also wanted to be a part of such an adventure. “We had a meeting and talked about it, but when it came time for making an investment and real money, I was by myself,” she said.

She immediately started looking for a place to put this hypothetical garden shop. “Even before I found a place to put it, I just knew this is what I was supposed to do,” she said, as her voice cracked.  Three local businessmen sat her down to talk to her about her plans. “We’re afraid you’re going to bankrupt your family,” they told her, speaking from an experience they’d had where they’d make an investment and lost a lot of money.

This time the tears were accompanied with laughter.

Her reasoning to these men was simple, “I just feel like that this is what I’m supposed to do with my life,” she said. “When I pray about it, God says, ‘Allow me to do this with your life.’ Every time I pray.”

 The bankers scared her bad enough for her to change her mind. That is until a few weeks later when the same ole feeling continued to linger. “You know they say, If God really gives you an idea, it won’t go away.”

Hicks later found herself at City Hall inquiring about the cost of a business license. She also ran into one of her banker friends who told her, “We knew you weren’t listening.”

 “But I really was,” she said.

 

Looking for land

Her quest to purchase the property where the first Blooms was located  on Hardy Street is a story unto itself.

She went to look at the piece of property, which she described as completely overgrown, and where the Keg and Barrel is located.  It was owned by the three Rawls Sisters and three generations of their family had grown up there. The asking price was $125,000, which was not in her price range. She convinced them into selling the back two lots, which brought the price down a bit, but was still more than Hicks was ready to pay. She prayed about it and $72,000 was what she knew she was supposed to pay. Hoping not to insult the women, that was the offer she made. A counter offer, still much too high, came back three weeks later and Hicks was about to abandon her dream. Three weeks later the Realtor came back and said the sisters had agreed, having heard of her plans for a garden shop and knowing she wasn’t going to tear the house down. Her Realtor told her they’d never take it. Dealing with this endeavor, she learned that a lot of men don’t take women seriously.

And from there, things took off, almost to the point of being overwhelming. She headed to market, not knowing where to even start and questioning God why she was doing this. “OK God, if this is Your will and what You really want me to do and Your plan for me, in the next five minutes let me see someone from Hattiesburg, and then I’ll know,” she remembers. All of a sudden from the throngs of people emerged Mary Shows of Hattiesburg with a,  “Well, Joyce Hicks, what are you doing here?”

Having been informed that her market purchases wouldn’t arrive for three to four weeks and with an opening date already in mind, she rented a Uhaul, loaded it up and headed back home. And Blooms opened on Feb. 12, 1994, two days before Valentine’s Day.

Daughter, Adrienne, was a 10th grader at Hattiesburg High and Jordan, who she described as the best help and salesperson, was about 12.

Garanich is quick to jump in and say, “I didn’t care a thing about it and wanted no part of it.” But despite her feelings and because an European adventure she had planned was put on hold, Garanich stayed and worked in the store for her mother until she graduated.

At this point, Garanich, who stayed in Hattiesburg and went to Southern Miss takes over the story.

Her parents made an agreement with her, “If you’ll live at home, we’ll pay for school.”

“I just wanted to leave and get out of town,” said Garanich, who eventually sought out and was hired on the spot for a job as the property manager for the Mark 1 apartments. She told me then she had managed Blooms. She was just 18 and would end up staying there about two years.

Knowing that she couldn’t do that for the rest of her life, she headed back to USM.

 “My parents knew that I had been praying about what I was supposed to do,” she said as the tears leaked from her eyes, mentioning that her William has the same teary problem.” 

Studying business

At USM she decided she would study business with an emphasis in marketing. She also went to work in advertising for Cliff Brown for awhile, before Rodney Richardson, owner of Rare Design, came back to town.

“I was Rodney’s first employee,” she said. “My first desk was two filing cabinets with a door on top of it.” She grew with Rodney’s business. “I was with him until almost the end of school.” And then she crossed the pond as part of USM’s British Studies program. “At the end of the program her mom came over and they traveled from London to Italy in a crazy cross country trip.”

She headed back home, where her desire to go back to Italy piqued her interest in taking Italian, which was unfortunately no longer offered. She decided on French, despite the less-than-stellar experiences she’d had when overseas. Prior to graduation, she’d talked to her French professor, who told her if she truly wanted to learn the language, she’d need to immerse herself in it and move there. “So, all of a sudden I had paperwork and left in June.

“I’d call home and cry saying, ‘I can’t do this,’” her mother asking if she wanted to come home.” Her reply was always a resounding, ‘No!’”

Garanich explained that she lived with a 70-year-old French woman who spoke no English, was crazy and neurotic.

 

Shooshoo

At this point, Garanich’s youngest, 4-year-old William, walks in with a jar of jelly wanting biscuits, to which his Shooshoo, his name for Hicks, quickly heads to the kitchen to please this little man.

Garanich explains that when William, who had reflux was little and cried, Hicks was the old one who could get him quiet. She would rock him back and forth making this shushing noise, kind of like the sound a child hears while in the womb. I couldn’t get him quiet because I wasn’t loud enough.”

“I hung over the seat for probably two hours on the way back from market one time to quieten him,” Joyce said.

So when the time came for Hicks to have a grandmother name, Shooshoo seemed appropriate.

Garanich studied in Nice for about three months and then traveled with her mom and friends before arriving in Paris to study at ESCE, a French business school where the submersion of the language would begin. All of her courses were in French.

Having made a lot of friend and with her accommodations not ready, she traveled to Sweden, where she lived for a month with friends before beginning her studies for the next year.

Having become really good friends with the international program director and assistant director, she was offered the opportunity to help them launch international MBA programs in Mexico and Chile. What they actually needed was someone who spoke English, and Garanich fit the bill, so she ended up staying and working full time, taking care of all the international and American students studying in the summer program.

“I did the intake, planned all the programs and took them on all of their outings,” Garanich explained. “I was basically touring them around the whole time, planning all of their events and activities.

It was the end of 2004 and Hicks, back at home, was thinking about selling Blooms despite Adrienne’s pleas from Europe saying, “Do not sell it. Do not sell it.

“I came home at the beginning of 2005 and there was no Blooms, so I went back to work for Rodney. This was the second of three stints she would work with him.

“When I came back, I still didn’t want to be here, so I helped my parents, who had sold our house of 34 years on Adeline and decided I was going to move to NOLA, but Katrina happened and I went to work for a Service Management group doing Canadian sales until that business closed. She then found herself working for USM’s International Studies program, but hated the job because of all the red tape.

“Up until this point, everything I’d done had been for a period of two to three years,” she said. “I stayed six months thinking that if I wanted this responsibility, I’d have kids of my own. Basically, I was responsible for  every student who was studying in another country. I did not sleep the whole summer. And I went back to work for Rodney for the third and last time.”

Blooms had been sold and moved to Newpointe in West Hattiesburg and then sold to somebody else before being moved to the Bakery Building, where it currently sits, and eventually closed.

 

Are you interested?

Richardson approached Garanich asking if her mother would be interested in buying it back. “I told him, ‘no,’ she’s retiring and moving to Florida. She’s been telling me this for a year.”

Joyce said Rodney would sit and talk with her about it, but he wanted a five-year lease and I told him I was too old, she said.

But during the course of time and after a good bit of praying, it got to the point, that Adrienne and her mom would step back in, open it up, with minimal expense and see how it went.

“There were a lot of, ‘What if nobody comes back to shop with us?’ ‘Will people come back down here to shop?’ but it was a risk we had to take,” said Garanich, who was still working at Rare. “Whenever Mom needed me, she’d come and knock on the wall (Rare had moved to the Bakery Building also) and that went on for a year.”

But people did come back and it was really humbling. They really do like us and Blooms.

 “Maybe it’s like the joke where a man drowned and God said ‘I sent you a helicopter, not a boat. Maybe this is our helicopter,” said Joyce, as she dabbed at her eyes.

Joyce said she and her two children joined hands. “God, if this is your divine will we’ll do it, so we did it,” said Hicks. “And obviously it was,” her telling Adrienne, “I’ll do it if you’ll do it with me.”

“When we decided to open back up, we literally applied for a credit card, which had a $4,000 credit limit, went to the bank and filed for paperwork, opened a checking account and we left for market the next day,” said Garanich.

“This was going to be a nifty thing grassroots wise,” said Adrienne. Their merchandise was going to feature all  local artists who had come in the store. “It wasn’t about what we got at market. It was local --  Robin Lee, Carol Draughan (who recently passed away) from Petal with all her artwork.” Not able to purchase a lot of inventory, Hicks bought a load of plants off the back of a truck to fill in the gaps and fluff things up. “We just kind of made it look like there was more than there was.”

In 2010, Adrienne left Rare for the last time. “It was really just to the point where Mom was knocking on the wall every day and I decided I just couldn’t keep doing this. It wasn’t fair to Blooms or Rodney. I had to make a decision and go with my gut. The Venue was now opening and we were booking more weddings and I stepped out on faith again.”

And yet more tears.

 

Mother/daughter

And thus began a mother/daughter relationship that Hicks had hoped for every day. “She told people she didn’t think we’d ever work together,” said Garanich. “We are totally different personalities,”

“And  I do everything she says,” added Joyce. With Garanich offering a quick, “Not true. Not true. She makes everybody think that.”

Because Blooms handles so many different things, their jobs overlap. “Where she has strengths I have weakness and vice versa,” said Garanich.

When Garanich and Bill married back in 2009, she planned every aspect of the wedding. The next year Lynn Phillips got married. “And when I tell you I handled every aspect of her wedding  - from putting her invitations in the mail to putting together the invitation list. I sat with her mother and put together a Budget. “I had done it for myself, but never for anybody else,” she said.

Wedding coordinator or planner was never a job she’d even really thought about. “I guess at some point I said I’d be interested in doing that, because recently I found some books from when I was dating Bill back in 2007 and 2008 that he’d given me for Christmas. They were wedding planning books, which now is so funny and weird. I didn’t even realize I had them. They were in some boxes we’d moved from Baton Rouge.”

Finding good help would be the next challenge of the women. “It has to be like that perfect fit,” explained Garanich, “not necessarily a certain personality. More importantly they have to be able to do a million things at one time and not stress out because we’re running around.

Help has to be like that perfect fit…not a certain personality. Have to be able to do a million things at one time and not stress out because we’re running around. While their employee count stays the same most of the time, it does tend to swell with bigger and multiple events.

The women said they also have a great working relationship with other designers here in town. “They will come in and help us and we reciprocate if they need us,” Garanich said.  “It’s a neat market from that perspective that we all like each other and all get along. That’s a fun thing from a vendor perspective and even a retail perspective. If somebody wants something we don’t have, we send them to that person and we hope they would do the same for us.”

 Hicks has returned to the table, the biscuits for William are almost ready.

“I think if you had to say one thing about what has happened when Adrienne said she never knew she was going to be a wedding planner, is that we just allowed God to work in our lives and I think this must be his perfect plan because I get to have my grandchildren every day,” Hicks said.

"At every turn there has always been an opportunity or it’s something I’ve been thinking about, praying about, a door opens and you walk through it. And it’s been interesting, that each thing we’ve done or experience just continues to build on what we already are doing, allowing us to grow.”

 

Cotton Ginnovations

Take for instance, Cotton Ginnovations, another wild hair of Hicks.

“I think people decided we are psycho. You can’t be sane and normal. And she’s the crazy one,” Garanich said, pointing to her mother, who starts to tell another story.

“When I was on Hardy Street, I used to say I wished I had a big old metal building with 15 different people doing 15 different things – artists feeding off each other… a place that would be open on weekends for people to come and buy their wares, because I love creativity. I feel like God the creator made everybody to create.”

And then one day, Hicks walked into the old cotton gin in Sumrall, and there was her big old metal building and yet another adventure.

“This is what I wanted,” she said as she got up to check the biscuits. “We love our biscuits, yes, we do.”

And when Cotton Ginnovations, the name for her large metal building, opens the last weekend in November and the first weekend in December, hot biscuits and cane syrup are served.

She’s had requests to open the business every Saturday, or at least more often, but along came another wild hair.

“Every year as the holiday season, we’d beg her not to hold Cotton Ginnovations again,” said Garanich. “It’s the busiest time of the year for Blooms and that pulls her out there. And that was before Shop Small Saturday, so our plan is to count on her not being at the store at all, even if she says she’s going to be there.”

 “It seemed like everything happened at the same time,” said Garanich. “Booms happened in 2010, Cotton Ginnovations in 2011 and William was born in 2013.

 

The birth of The Bay

And then in 2014, The Bay, which would become a bed and breakfast, happened.

Garanich said that David Broome, who had the bed and breakfast across the street at one time, used to store things in the house. “But everybody I’d ever talked to about this house described it as too choppy and asked, ‘Why would you want to do anything with house’.” We’d never stepped foot in the house and really didn’t feel there was any reason to even look at house,” which had been on the market for four years.

But Joyce had heard that it had an incredible staircase and wanted to see inside. So, she called the Realtor and then Garanich, telling her to come look.  Hicks got back a, ‘No, no! I’m not getting involved,” but gave in, feeling there was no reason to be concerned.

“But when we walked in, there was something about this house, which had just been reduced,” Garanich said. “The house, which had been owned by Jack Jones had been closed up for a number of years, but there had been maintenance on some level and you could tell they’d really tried to keep it up.

“When you came in, it was like you could sense and feel how the house would have been when they had dinner parties, see people dancing, having a good time, hear the music. It was kind of like the house just exuded that in a comforting way . When you walked in  it wasn’t that everything was so ornate and over decorated. I could see it to which point, I wish I couldn’t.”

 About the time they were looking at The Bay, Garanich found out she was pregnant. “I told my mom I couldn’t do this.  We’re not doing another business and another baby.”

And they bought it.

“Bill came down and looked at it,” remembers Garanich. “I think he knows and knew that we were going to do it no matter what he said, so he might as well just get on board. And he did.”

So now, they are all three on board at some level of these businesses. “Bill had to sign papers,” Garanich said, “I didn’t know if he would or not.”

They closed on the house at the end of August 2014 and renovations started immediately with Joyce overseeing the renovation of The Bay. “I told her you’re going to have to do this, but she would constantly call me and say, ‘Come look at this.’  It’s kind of funny what all had to be done, nothing structural or anything, mostly cosmetic – re-sheet rocking, new wiring, plumbing, new ac and heat. It was September and Bill, William and I went to Europe in October. Mother was supposed to put things on hold, but she really didn’t.”

The house was to be on the Victorian Candlelight Christmas Tour of home, so the construction crew had been given a completion date, according to Hicks. “They obviously didn’t believe us. When we walked in the house late that night, there was stuff everywhere, sawhorses, paint and the like. I got on the phone and called them and told them they could either come and move their stuff out or we would.”

The crew showed up about midnight and Hicks and Garanich began the arduous task of staging the house two days before the open house. The Bay was not fully opened until the summer of 2015.

 

Isn’t that enough?

The Bay’s business has continued to grow, despite the fact that they haven’t done a lot to promote it. “We haven’t had time,” said Garanich. Alexandra was born in April 2015, and like with William, Garanich was back at work the next weekend.

It came down to an “Isn’t that enough?” said Hicks. “That’s the problem right there, you said, isn’t that enough?”

“I know,” was Hicks’ reply.

And then came a question from Bill in late 2015, “Do you think Wanda (Henderson) at Celebrations would ever sell?”

Garanich said they had worked together and mentioned Bill’s question to her one day in passing when they were breaking down at the end of the night. “Bill said if you ever want to sell the business… and I laughed,” she said. And out of Henderson’s mouth came, “As a matter of fact.”

 Garanich said it was a conversation for a long time, until Henderson decided she wanted to retire. The couple went to the bank, wrote a business plan, “which took forever” and questions, “Do we really want to do this? It got to the point, if we were going to do this, we were going to have to commit. We did, the business plan was written and the finances were aligned.”

They described the purchase as an opportunity at the right time. “We kept saying if it wasn’t meant to be then things wouldn’t work out. We prayed about it, knowing that if it didn’t work out if was out of our hands.”

The plan was for Bill, who had been with Merchants Foodservice for 10 years, to work there full time. The couple closed on the business in August 2016 and Bill went to work there in October.

It was a “we need help. We need to be committed,” said Garanich.

At some time during this crazy journey the women had been on, Bill had to think these women were crazy. “I new the craziness and kept telling him when we were talking about getting the store back., ‘You have to understand if we do this, at 10 p.m. or at midnight I may not be here, but at the store.”

“That first full year we had to pour ourselves into it,” said Garanich. “While there was name recognition, we were still in the rebuilding process and we had to let people know we were back. And the calls came from Bill, ‘Are you coming home?’ ‘Nope, I’m at the store, we’re doing this and that, revamping.’” And many times when I was home, he was watching television and I was on the computer doing stuff for the store. There are times even now when he mentions being trained to work at Blooms.”

The women both agree that the journey has been and continues to be fun. They are running several businesses that work well together and keep them very busy.

But there’s more to these businesses beyond the three adults. There are two other very important family workers – 4-year-old William and 21-month-old Alexandra.

Garanich said William goes to work with Bill on numerous occasions. “We are so fortunate that people that work at both places love our children and because they do, they help take care of them and love them. We’re a very family-driven business. If we’re having a meeting at Blooms and people that work there now need to bring their children, they bring them,” she said.

“We just try and structure and work around whatever is convenient and necessary to ensure that we’re running a business and raising babies. Eventually it will be a nice thing for me to be back in the store all the time, once they are in school. But for now, we’re very fortunate to have James.”

 

Their little man

William’s proud grandmother is eager to tell you that he can tell you anything you want to know, having chastised a man in a truck, who was smoking as he and his Shooshoo walked by.

“He thinks he is an adult,” said Garanich, as her mom quickly pops in, “She was the same way when she was little.” He very deliberately tells you the workings of a fulcrum, making sure you understand that the last part of the word is like cookie or cracker “crumbs.” And don’t even get him started explaining to you about hydroponics, something he’s picked up from his Papaw on Saturdays he spend with him. “He retains everything Daddy tells him.”

If you ask, he’ll tell you his name is James “Boss” Hicks Garanich,

If there’s a wedding, William is there to help. And most of the Blooms brides who know him extend a special invitation for him to attend the big day. His mother explains that he’s usually there just for the cake.

He works behind the counter at Blooms and occasionally you’ll find him answering the phone. “Blooms, this is William speaking.” He also helps James with the flowers and takes flowers to all the little girls who come into the store, a Blooms tradition.

“He does not sleep if he knows I’m going back late to breakdown after an event, he has to tag along, because ‘that’s his job.’” He helps pull fabric down from the ceiling, carry or roll things out and is a pretty serious worker when it comes to a broom and dustpan. “He’s not just walking around. He likes to help put stuff up and likes to pick up heavy things. ”

And it’s William who can tell you what it’s really all about. When his Mom works the Barn at Bridlewood venue, William enjoys going out and riding the tractors with owners Tori and Nathan Banks. “He thinks all those tractors are his and Tori lets him think that.”

While he’s partial to John Deere, he says he going to have a Kubota when he grows up.

But Alexandra is getting to the age now where she realizes she is being left behind.

Garanich said both children have been raised in the store. “William used to take naps on a big pillow under the clothing racks, when we had clothes and he went to his first market at six weeks of age.”

It’s even been suggested that William needs to have his own Facebook page.

Garanich hopes that unlike herself, William won’t say he’s ready to get away from his family. She hopes he continues on with the business, just like she’d like to see her brother, who is married and lives in Mobile, come back and work with the business.

“He is the person who, when we needed something hung or done, it was Jordan who we called. His mother described him as a “people person.”

The family hopes the businesses that they have continue to grow. “Our world evolves right here,” said Garanich. “Between the store, The Bay, our house just down the street, William at First United Methodist Preschool (he was a shepherd and sang the loudest) and eventually Sacred Heart, everything is right here. I’ve always wanted a place where we could walk to everything. For me it’s that community where you have the ability to be in a city and still be able to get around without getting in a car and going somewhere….everything all right here in our little world.”

The businesses usually see at least one wedding a weekend, but there have been three or four. “It’s a good problem to have,” said Garanich. “There are just some weekends we don’t go to sleep, but we try to always get at least three hours.

“In this industry and business, both on retail side, every single business we have is labor and time intensive and very customer-service oriented. You always have to be on…always there. Nothing can be automated. The crew we have, we couldn’t live or do it without them. James is full time and then there’s Kathy, Stephanie, Rachel, me and mom, anywhere from six to 10 people, based on what is going on. And some weekends we could use more.

William received an accordion for Christmas, but also plays guitar and harmonica and a mean tambourine with his foot. Both of the children know the words to Coal Mine and Chain Gang. “He’s a Johnny Cash fan and at times I wonder where he came from,” said Garanich.

Blooms has grown from the bare roots. But where did it really come from.

Joyce explained that she was counseling a friend that needed somebody to talk to. She said, “What you’re saying is at the end of the day, you have to bloom where you are planted.”

 Joyce repeated Blooms, that’s the name of my shop,” and the woman replied, ‘I didn’t know you had a shop.’ Well, I don’t yet, but I’m going to.”

 After Hicks inaugural opening of Blooms, she continued for work at BellSouth full time for two years. She also worked full time at Blooms. “I didn’t know you could work 100 hours a week, but Blooms wasn’t work. I’d work 7 to 11 a.m. at BellSouth then run to Blooms and work before heading back to BellSouth from 5-8 p.m. But it was the most gratifying thing I’ve ever done.”

The women described themselves as the family in Hattiesburg that sleeps less than everybody else.

The women have done exactly that, but they’ve also sown the business seeds in several other flowerbeds.

“We are a crazy family,” Joyce admits. “But I feel most complete when I’m with my children and grandchildren… when we’re one family under one roof.”

 

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