Fuzzy, soft teddy bears wait on Janousek's display shelves for birth bouquets. Tall, glossy-leafed peace lilies sit by the midtown shop window, funeral-bound.
Perhaps no other business than a flower shop captures so many of life's milestones.
Here's Jeff, putting the finishing touches on an elegant white-and-purple orchid for a Von Maur employee's birthday. Here's Ramona, selecting a rainbow of blooms for another woman's birthday, carefully sticking a single rose — the caller asked for one — amid the purple irises, pink tulips and Gerber daisies. Here's Katie, affixing a green gauzy bow on a peace lily for the bereaved.
Today through Thursday these Janousek's employees at 49th and Charles Streets and 168th Street and West Center Road will be up to their elbows in roses as the store slogs through its busiest time of year.
Another Valentine's Day for Janousek's. Another milestone for what could be Omaha's oldest family flower business.
Janousek's turns 100 this year. None of the three generations of Janousek men I interviewed could think of an older shop. Neither could one of their competitors, Frank Piccolo, who started his business in 1981.
Don Janousek, who runs the store, his son Eric, who is heir apparent, and Don's Uncle Joe don't have any big plans to ring in a century.
Not that they aren't proud.
Don's grandfather and great-uncle started the business with a South Omaha storefront. He choked up when he recalled one of the old stories. His family had managed to keep its business open through the Great Depression, when flowers would have seemed frivolous.
“If you see the books,” Don says, “you'll scratch your head and say, 'How did they make any money to live?' ”
“Don't ask me,” Uncle Joe retorts. “Paper routes. No sports. It was touch-and-go. We didn't have nothing. We made everything.”
At that time, Don's grandfather, Fred Janousek, sent a $50 check to the Dutch for tulip bulbs. The Holland Bulb Company framed the piece of paper from Omaha instead, a symbol to them the Depression was over.
Fred was not happy about this, said his grandson. Not wanting to get something for nothing, Fred supposedly said: “I gotta pay my bills.”
Fred and brother Ed were Czech immigrants who landed in Omaha and traded meatpacking work to start a floral business. Family members don't recall either Fred or Ed being particular green thumbs. They just saw a market and got to work.
“Most designs then were flat,” Uncle Joe says. “You jab one here. Jab one there.”
They had a storefront on South 24th Street. They ran a greenhouse near the old Prospect Hill Cemetery at 33rd and Parker Streets.
The Janouseks raised mostly bedding plants and bulb flowers, delivering by streetcar in what was a cumbersome, time-consuming process. Fred or Ed would hop onto a streetcar, arms filled with bouquets, and hop off, leaving a few arrangements at the corner and walking blocks to reach each delivery.
Fred and Ed married a pair of sisters. Each family had five children. Uncle Joe was Fred's kid.
The 90-year-old remembers how the families squeaked by during the Depression. He had the distinct privilege of fertilizing the raised flower beds by hand with fresh cow manure, a tradition his nephew Don would inherit but not pass on.
Uncle Joe went off to war — Army, Europe, World War II. When he returned to Omaha, he decided to make his future in metal manufacturing, working 35 years for Eaton Corp. But even after his shift, he'd swing by the family greenhouse and pitch in.
Joe's brother Ed and Ed's cousin Erv took over the business: Janousek Brothers. They were the second generation of Janouseks to carry it on.
In 1967, these Janouseks moved their greenhouse and shop “west.” They bought out a florist at 4901 Charles St.
Not long after, my folks moved into a house a block west. Growing up, “Janousek's” was on the phone list Mom taped to the kitchen wall. Someone was always dying. Someone was always having a baby. It seemed like she was always calling Janousek's.
As the second generation aged, Ed's son Dan and Erv's son Don stepped up to become the third generation to run a business now called Janousek Florist & Greenhouses Inc.
Don eventually bought out his cousin. His father, Erv, died in 2010.
If you can keep all that straight, here are the Janouseks who you'll see any weekday morning at the Charles Street store. There's Don, age 62, who officially is the boss. There's Uncle Joe, who lives nearby and walks over for the chat, the color and to help out where he can. Then there's Eric, Don's son, who is 32. Someday, he will be the fourth generation to run the business.
Eric Janousek was an Omaha Skutt High soccer standout who went on to play for Hastings College, where he earned a business degree.
He is the only Janousek who can navigate an increasingly computerized business. People don't drop in to order flowers like they used to; most orders now come from the Internet. Or over the phone.
And most business has moved west. Few customers like my mom, neighborhood loyalists who have memorized Janousek's number, remain.
Janousek's survived competition from grocery stores and general consumer dropoff during the Great Depression. It survived a transition from growing everything it sold to importing nearly everything it puts in a vase. The business still grows bedding plants, but it became too expensive, at $5,000 a month, to heat the Charles Street greenhouse to keep that up.
Eric Janousek is tied to the past. He moved into his late grandfather's Charles Street House. But he is also confident about the future.
“Flowers never go away,” he says. “People always die. People always give birth.”
And, as this week attests: “People always fall in love.”
Contact the writer: