While growing up in Brownwood, Norita Hallum’s father, Sam White, worked as the grower for the Brownwood Floral Company, located on Austin Avenue where Mills County Bank now resides. Norita’s friends were often traveling on holidays, while she remained in Brownwood due to her father’s occupation. At that time, Norita vowed she’d never marry a florist.
More than half a century later, Norita and her husband, James, are closing the doors at Hallum Floral and Gifts, bringing an end to a pair of careers that span almost 60 years.
“He was not a florist when we married,” Norita joked during an interview earlier this week as the Hallums stopped by the Bulletin office. “He worked for my dad while he was going to Howard Payne. One thing led to another and when he got out of the Navy he came back to work and we found out he was very creative. He’s done most of the designing at the shop and I’ve done the weddings and those types of things.”
The Hallums’ origin in the Brownwood floral market dates to 1954, be it in their original location on Second Street, their former location on Austin Avenue where Sonic now stands, or in the building on East Adams that became home in 2000. The couple had been contemplating retiring at the end of 2013, but a playful conversation advanced those plans.
“We had been thinking about retiring at the end of the year, but I was at the beauty shop and they were hunting for a building and very laughingly I said ‘We have one.’ That’s how it happened,” Norita said. “But now we don’t have to worry about putting it up for sale and doing all that, so it worked out wonderfully. We had the opportunity to give someone else an opportunity.”
Added James Hallum, “Fifty-nine years or so, that’s a long time, seems like. Looking back on it, though, it doesn’t seem that it was all that long.”
Originally, the Hallums had planned on living in Houston after James’ two-year stint in the Navy. He was offered a job as a chemist, but big city life didn’t enthrall the couple. Soon they returned to Brownwood and the floral business, which became their passion.
“Back when we started, it was a wholesale and retail business,” James said. “We had 17 or 18 big greenhouses here in Brownwood and grew different kinds of plants. We were one of the first florists to have truck delivery across the state. We didn’t do a whole lot all the way to the end of the state. We did some out to New Mexico, but mostly in Texas.”
While Norita’s parents were focused on both wholesale and retail, the Hallums wanted to shift their attention more to the retail and creative aspects, which led to the birth of Hallum Floral and Gifts. Walking away from the floral business after all this time wasn’t any easy decision, but one the Hallums felt it was time to make.
“The main reason we decided to retire is we’ve been in this business a long, long time, almost 60 years,” Norita said. “We decided that we’re getting older and probably need time to do a few things we haven’t done. We just want to slow down a little bit from the pressure of that type of job, even though it was hard because of the many friends we’ve met. It was hard to make the decision and it’s always bittersweet with something like that because we loved what we do. We thoroughly enjoyed it.”
The Hallums’ floral contributions have extended far beyond the city limits of Brownwood as Norita is a former board member of the African Violet Society of America, while James served two terms as president of the West Texas-New Mexico Floral Association. Both positions allowed the couple to tour the United States and attend various events.
“People ask me a lot about traveling now, but we traveled a lot when we were younger,” Norita said. “I don’t know that we’ll do a lot of traveling. There are still some things around Texas we’d like to see, but I’ve got plenty to do at home. There are all kinds of projects, so I won’t want for anything to do. We don’t have to travel because when we look at our back window, we have a different scene every day. It feels like we’re on a vacation everyday.”
The Hallums have a son, James, in Salt Lake City; a daughter, Melinda Oliver, in Waco; and a granddaughter, Kathryn Oliver, in Dallas, who they plan to be seeing more of with the arrival of retirement.
The Hallums’ status in national floral organizations also offered them the opportunity to attend seminars that fostered their creativity and allowed the couple to bring new designs back to Brownwood.
“After the design seminars, we’d come back to the shop and felt feel like we’d learned something,” James said.
Added Norita, “We always tried to bring something from the city back to Brownwood, so you didn’t have to go to Dallas or Fort Worth. We brought some of that back here on a smaller scale.”
In the early days of Hallum Floral and Gifts, the company’s services extending to wedding planners, as well.
“We did the entire thing,” James said. “The wedding, receptions, catering, wedding cakes. We had seven weddings in one night.”
Added Norita, “We did weddings all the way to Memphis, Tenn., a lot in Dallas and all the surrounding areas here. The people were so wonderful to work with, they were so receptive that by the time we were through, we just had wonderful new friends. To this day we still here from people we have done things for. To me, that’s the biggest plus. We’ve done family weddings and now we’re doing their children’s weddings.”
Clearly, James and Norita had some help along the way — especially in the early days — and are grateful to all who have shared their journey.
“James has a larger family and has brothers and sisters-in-law we could always call on to help us and that’s been a real plus,” Norita said. “At holiday times, we’d call and they’d come help us out. That’s made it easier for us, to have a big support group within your family.
“We also had quite a few employees over the 60 years and we were fortunate to have Shirley Randolph as part of our team for over 40 years. She was involved in all aspects of our business. She was very supportive and loyal. Without her, it would have been difficult for us to have accomplished our goals and made them a reality. We never referred to her as an employee. She was always a part of our team.”
In the floral business, orders come in for every occasion — from weddings to funerals — and the creations designed by the Hallums always left a lasting impact on their customers.
“You could go from one emotion to another in matter of minutes,” James said. “You could be working on a wedding and a few minutes later someone could come in asking for a casket piece for a funeral. You’re constantly shifting emotions from one to another. But I don’t think we ever turned down anything that I can recall someone wanted designed for a particular person. We’ve done funeral pieces of just about anything you can think of, from cowboys to motorcycles.”
Added Norita, “I got a note recently when someone heard we were retiring and it said ‘We are glad we were a recipient of your creativity and graciousness.’ That makes it all worth while. Our main thing was to work with our customers to help them have a feeling that we helped them through whatever they were going through, whether it was a funeral, a party, a birthday, or if someone was ill. That’s what’s the most rewarding.”