Sparta Floral to host 75 +1 year anniversary bash this weekend
Sparta Floral & Greenhouses has an extensive history in the Sparta area, which the Solberg family recently reflected back on, as they prepare to celebrate their 75 +1 year anniversary of ownership this upcoming weekend.
It all began in 1865 with a hobbyist greenhouse built by the Jewett family for their young daughter. They began to outgrow the space and tried to give away plants when people felt it would be fairer to exchange goods instead.
It gradually grew into a business and by the 1880s, it was a nursery where they grew trees and shrubs.
In 1909, the original building was lost to a fire in which a night watchman lost his life. The nursery suffered another fire in 1929.
In the 1930s, the small business was sold to Glen Hopkins, who also owned a bowling alley in Sparta.
The Solberg family took over ownership in 1945. Raymond and Christine Solberg had owned a greenhouse in Manchester, Iowa before purchasing Sparta Floral from Hopkins and moving the family to Sparta.
Raymond’s son Jim served in the military but eventually moved back to the area with his wife Shirley in the 1950s and took over ownership of the floral shop in 1963 prior to Raymond’s retirement.
Together, the father/son duo started the wholesale business and over the years, Jim made some gradual additions including a few more greenhouses and a warehouse.
Paul Solberg came back to Sparta from college in 1976 to join the family business and is now the third-generation owner at Sparta Floral along with his wife Cindy, who started designing in the 1980s.
“I didn’t go to college intending to come back, but once I saw what else was out there it had a lot of appeal,” Paul said. “What I enjoy the most is the diversity of what we do here. One day you’re in marketing, the next day accounting, the next day design work.”
Their son Eric Solberg and his wife Becky studied horticulture at the University of Wisconsin - River Falls and plan to become fourth generation owners when Paul and Cindy are ready for retirement.
“And every now and then the grandkids show up to put in a few hours of work,” Cindy joked, hopeful that the business might carry on to a fifth generation; Becky on the other hand isn’t so sure.
“They just don’t have much of an interest yet,” she said, however, Eric added that while he was growing up in the floral shop, he didn’t have much of an interest either.
The family has made several changes over the years including expanding retail space and better utilizing greenhouse space. About four years ago, they tore down five greenhouses that were built in the teens of the last century to expand parking space.
“They came down without a lot of encouragement,” Paul joked, adding that the greenhouses were too old to be useful anymore.
At one point, Sparta Floral had 18 greenhouses that staff were growing stuff in all year-round, but according to Paul it doesn’t make sense for them to do that anymore. When the economy tanked in 2008, sales were down, and it was cheaper for the business to have certain products shipped in instead of growing them in house.
“I would say things have changed so much in the last 15 years; more than in the first 50,” Paul said. “Production and the economy are just so much different. You just change and adapt.”
Today, it is a full-service floral shop with a large inventory of flowers, plants, gift baskets, candles and garden ornaments to name a few.
“At this point I think we are servicing roughly 20 other flower shops around the area with green plants and flowering plants that we deliver to on a weekly basis,” Paul said. “That allows us to buy in volume from Florida and keep a varied selection here.”
They can and will design contemporary and traditional floral arrangements as well as high-style floral arrangements, silk arrangements, dried floral arrangements for weddings, funerals and just about any party imaginable.
Sparta Floral also has a gift shop full of unique products for just about every celebration and greenhouses open to the public all-year round containing a large variety of plants from all over including Florida, Oregon, Illinois, Connecticut, Minnesota, California and even Canada.
Mixed in with a greenhouse full of tropical plants are a few of the Solberg family’s pet plants including an 18-year-old Fiddle Leaf Fig, which stands nearly as tall as the greenhouse itself.
In 1966, Paul’s sister germinated a grapefruit seed as a science project with her third-grade class at Lakeview Elementary School. At the end of the year, the teacher sent the little tree home with her because she had a place to grow it in her family’s greenhouse.
“It’s been growing here for 55 years,” Paul said. “We keep having to cut it back to contain it within the greenhouse. Otherwise, it’d be 30-feet tall.”
The entire building from floor to ceiling is dripping with history. There is so much to see at Sparta Floral from plants, shrubs, trees and flowers to gifts and keepsakes and the Solberg is ready to finally celebrate their 75 +1 year anniversary.
The celebration was put on hold last year due to the pandemic and instead of holding a virtual event of some sort, the Solbergs wanted to wait until such a time that it was safe to be together again.
The 75 +1 year anniversary bash will be held at Sparta Floral on Saturday, July 17 from 5 to 10 p.m. Guests are invited to bring a lawn chair to enjoy some live music provided by Carlos Danger; Sparta Beer Shop owner Beau Burlingame will have beverages available and Jason Hauser will be serving up pulled pork.