Oklahoma City florist celebrates colorful 80-year history of family-owned business
Kent Whitnah, co-owner of Capitol Hill Florist and Gifts, carries on the family business that his paternal grandparents founded in 1932.
Business was blooming Monday at Capitol Hill Florist, with poinsettias, red-and-white flowers, pine cones, ribbons and more a flyin'.
But co-owner Kent Whitnah, 46, remained cool — so cool he could have been standing inside the shop's gigantic walk-in cooler. Whitnah grew up in the business, which was founded by his paternal grandparents in 1932 and managed by his parents — before he and his wife, Cindy, took over 22 years ago.
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Dec 19Kent Whitnah, co-owner of Capitol Hill Florist and Gifts,...
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• Position: Co-owner of Capitol Hill Florist and Gifts
• Website: capitolhillflorist.com
• Birth date: Feb. 6, 1966.
• Family: Cindy, business partner and wife of 23 years (they were sweethearts at U.S. Grant High School); children Chet, 16, Shaley, 14, and Cooper, 8
• Education: 1988 graduate of the University of Oklahoma, bachelor's in business administration/management information systems
• Associations: Greater and South Oklahoma City chambers, Society of American Florists and Oklahoma State Florists Association
• Pastimes: OU football games; family getaways to Lake Texoma, where his grandparents in 1966 bought waterfront property; and periodic trips with Cindy to California, Florida and Mexico to visit friends and scuba dive.
When the family broke ground on its location at 5809 S Western, there was “nothin' but mud from there to Norman!” his grandmother liked to say. Today, the 5,000-square-foot shop is rooted in a sprawling metropolis and has a sister shop five miles south.
Every holiday season, as they have for the past 80 years now, the family counts on all of its members to help.
His mother‘s apt motto is “Many hands together and soon the work is done.”
Whitnah, who employs 18 full-time and part-time workers, took a break from the Christmas rush to sit down with The Oklahoman and reflect on his professional and personal life. This is an edited transcript:
Q: Tell us about your roots. Did you know your grandparents well?
A: Sure. They lived just right behind this store, and when I started working here, making deliveries and processing flowers after school at age 16, my grandmother — with her signature red hair — still pitched in, making bows. She didn't know a stranger. My grandfather would sit in a chair near the front door, smoking and watching what was going on. We celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary in 1978, a few years before my grandfather died.
My father, Jack, is their only child. He met my mother, Burny — whose family owned Higdon's Florist and Greenhouses — at a florist convention in 1952; they married the next year. I'm the youngest of their four children. My brother is five years older, and sisters, eight years and 12 years older.
Q: Did you always know you'd carry on the family business?
A: Not really. After graduating with a business degree from OU, I'd advanced to a customer services supervisor with Cox Communications, with whom I started working nights in telemarketing my freshmen year. My brother was a firefighter; one of my sisters is a teacher — but I, and the whole family, pitched in every Valentine's Day and the week of Mother's Day.