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ON RETAIL

Klein's Floral goes big and bright along East Washington Avenue

  • 2 min to read

The house in which Sue Klein was born is gone.

So, too, are the low-slung greenhouses and sheds that for decades were familiar sights along East Washington Avenue near Highway 51.

But $3.2 million in replacements are helping Klein's Floral & Greenhouses enter a new era in its 105-year-old history.

There are still reminders of the company's past: An old kitchen sink that's been converted to a retail display stand. Wooden flower flats, more than 50 years old, used for storage. Wooden yard sticks that bear the business name, now part of the front of the design counter. There's also a 1928 International Harvester pickup truck owned by Klein's grandfather, parked in a corner with its bed filled with flowers. 

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Klein's Floral & Greenhouses

A corner of the retail area at Klein's Floral & Greenhouses includes a spot for the 1928 International Harvester pickup purchased by Frederick Klein and used to make flower and vegetable deliveries throughout the Madison area. The truck was regularly driven until 1965.

"It really hit me when I saw my sons push their great-grandfather's truck in here," Klein said, reflecting on her family's strong ties to its past. "It was pretty cool."

So, too, are the new digs.

After nearly 10 months of demolition and construction, Klein's Floral, 3758 E. Washington Ave., has a modern, 22,000-square-foot greenhouse equipped with automatic venting, polycarbonate shade curtains, radiant floor heating and a modern, energy-efficient heating system that could combine to save the company $30,000 annually in utility bills. Workers no longer have to stand on tables or benches to manually crank roof vents.

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Klein's Floral & Greenhouses

Rick Halbach, a greenhouse worker at Klein's Floral & Greenhouses, organizes flats of flowers in the company's new facility. Klein's does about 50 percent of its business in May and 75 percent of its business for the year by mid-June.

The 8,000-square-foot retail area is spacious, allows customers to interact with floral designers and includes a large garage door that opens up to the outside display area that is still waiting to be filled with inventory.

The greenhouse, filled with flowers waiting for the earth to thaw and used benches purchased from Brennan's Market when it closed last year, also includes large glass walls that gives thousands of motorists a day the chance to peek and take in the green. The property also includes two entrances on East Washington Avenue and an access point from Highway 51.

"It was many years of talking with my (four) children, and they really wanted to stay here," Klein said. "There's nothing like this."

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Klein's Floral & Greenhouses

The new greenhouses stand out along East Washington Avenue at Klein's Floral & Greenhouses. A $3.2 million demolition and reconstruction project has modernized the 105-year-old business.

The business was founded in 1913 by Frederick and Susan Klein, who moved to Madison from Ottumwa, Iowa, and purchased a small greenhouse on what was then known as Sun Prairie Road. The 13-acre property included a house, two greenhouses, a barn and a chicken coop. They started out selling lettuce, tomatoes, strawberries and other fresh produce and grew perennials in the field where the Walgreen's now stands.

In 1955, a year after fire destroyed half of the greenhouses on the property, Sue Klein's parents, Oscar and Joyce, purchased the business from Oscar's parents. Sue Klein, an only child and an East High School graduate, bought the business in 1990, three years after graduating from UW-Madison with a degree in floriculture.

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Klein's Floral & Greenhouses

A wooden yardstick, likely from the 1960s, has been incorporated into the shiplap facing of the floral design center at Klein's Floral & Greenhouses. 

Klein is now surrounded by one of the most modern garden centers in the Midwest and one that is located on one of the fastest developing corridors in the city. And, just like her now-late great-grandparents and parents, has taken the business to a new level.

"I hope they're happy," Klein said. "I'm really loving this."

Send retail-related tips and story ideas to badams@madison.com or call Barry Adams at 608-252-6148.

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Barry Adams covers regional and business news for the Wisconsin State Journal.