Written by Seth Carpenter
Venturing inside Humphrey’s Flowers, one is immediately struck by the vibrant Eden of flora and greenery covering nearly every available corner of the humble storefront located near the intersection of McCallie Avenue and Holtzclaw.
Founded in 1934 by Alice and Horace Humphrey, the brick-and-mortar flower shop has passed through four generations as well as two separate locations and remains within the family to this day, now heralded by Helen and Dave Cheek.
However, the most recent handing off of the torch was not always a sure thing, as the burly 6-foot-3-inch florist Dave Cheek explains.
“When we got married, my wife didn’t want anything to do with the family business,” Cheek says.
In fact, it was not until Helen’s parents were making the preparations to sell the shop that she came in to help them and ultimately realized this was her calling.
Her husband saw something special in this continuity of family ownership, and after becoming a part of the family he went so far as to purchase the flower shop from his father-in-law.
“We could sell this place to John Smith, and it’s still ‘Humphrey’s Flowers’ out there, but it’s not Humphrey’s,” Cheek illustrates.
He also puts a poetic purpose to what they do at Humphrey’s Flowers and the overall significance of the color-struck blossoms they sell.
“When you’re born, chances are your mom got flowers,” he says. “When you graduate from high school, there was probably a flower involved… when you get married, flowers. When you pass away you get flowers at your funeral… Pretty much every big event in your life involves flowers in some form or fashion.”
However, like many things over the past year and a half, the COVID-19 pandemic created its fair share of adversity for the family business.
Around mid-March of 2020, the pair had to send their workers home, and after four days of having effectively closed the shop, they transitioned to delivery only in order to remain open with the lockdown in place.
Over the following month, Humphrey’s Flowers consisted of just the couple.
“I would answer phone calls and take orders, and [Helen] would process the orders. At around lunchtime, early afternoon, she would take the kids home and I would go out and deliver,” Cheek explains.
Come Mother’s Day, demand soared and according to Cheek it hasn’t dropped off since, a problem he happily accepts.
“We had probably our craziest Mother’s Day last year just because people couldn’t see people. People couldn’t go anywhere and the only thing they can do is send them something,” he says.
Cheek also points out a problem unique to an aging business such as theirs.
“The biggest thing is trying to grow your customer base,” he explains. “You can’t rely on people who have bought flowers from you for 50 years to continue to do that for another 50.”
With many existing customers spanning the generations nearly as far back as the shop itself, this issue has only become more evident with time. In response, the couple has made Humphrey’s Flowers more accessible through the shop’s social media where people can see their vibrant work.
They are also keeping an eye on their own time, though retirement is still far off.
“For us, I would say somewhere around 20 years would be our time limit on running this place before we would consider retiring,” he says.
Cheek also hints at their daughters taking over, should they still want to when the day comes. But that day is still just “that day,” and should remain so for quite a while.
For now, the couple focuses on what’s important to them.
“Flowers make people happy,” Cheek says. “If you can’t think of something to get somebody that you like, regardless of what your relationship is with them: if it’s a friend, a parent, a relative, significant other… If it doesn’t put a smile on their face, something’s wrong with them.”
At least for now, the family will continue to put smiles on faces, just as they have for four generations.
Dave’s Rock Garden
Written by Dave Whalen
Long before Dave Cheek thought he’d be running an 80-year-old flower shop, he was cultivating a different passion—one for music.
Cheek had always played music but in 2001, during his employment at a local TV Station back in Tuscaloosa, WJRD channel 49, he met his first real bandmate.
During a police stand-off involving filming rights, Eli Jordan, a satellite technician for Fox 6 news in Birmingham, was arrested after refusing the police’s request to put away his camera, claiming he had a legal right to film. Cheek had filmed that altercation and offered up the footage to Jordan for evidence in a potential litigation against the Tuscaloosa Sheriff’s department. He and Cheek got to chatting about lighter-hearted subjects like music. Coincidentally, Jordan was a drummer who needed a guitarist.
Though, the two had differing musical tastes and inspiration with Cheek being a self-admitted “Metal punk guy, [who] dabbled with the [Grateful] Dead” and Jordan a “Beatles kinda guy,” they found harmony and even composed their own rendition of a Bob Marley original titled, “I Shot the Sheriff (but got arrested by the deputy)” which recounted an undoubtedly overdramatized report of the night.
Their music was mostly jams, meaning less focus on lyrics and more on the rhythm and the riff of the music itself—genres ranging in the funk and groove, “almost jazz… but not,” says Cheek.
After an odyssey of music, where bassists, keyboard players and singers were found but then lost, and playing a few gigs at local dive bars, Dave had met his wife and future business partner, Helen, who was a bartender at one of the venues.
The University of Tuscaloosa had been gifted the dying WJRD news stations and Cheek hadn’t made the cut in the transfer, leading him to search for greener pastures.
Once settled into his new home of Chattanooga in 2006, one of the first priorities for Cheek was finding more musicians to jam with. It wasn’t long before he found his current drummer, Doug Winesburgh, who he enticed with a CD of his old band Chinese Dentist— the name alluding to an obscure scene from the HBO sketch comedy show, Mr. Show by Bob Odenkirk and David Cross
From 2008 to 2020, the band name and it’s members have seen many changes, but they are currently performing as Sons of Mind with Andy Beck on guitar, Doug Winesburgh on drums, and Dave Cheek on Bass. They play originals and love to cover the Grateful Dead during their Wednesday night practices.
Winesburgh’s basement, where they practice, looks something like a recording studio. Towers of amplifiers, a slew of guitars and undoubtedly miles of cables connect each musician together, making it their own stage. To top it off, a comfy lounge area and small bar gives the space an ambiance like a venue, compacted into the intimate foundation of Winesburgh’s house.
Once practice starts, the Sons of Mind display an impressive range of original songs in a variety of genres like rock, funk, psychedelic and groove, but one thing the songs did share was a healthy amount of shred by Andy Beck, the band’s talented lead guitarist.
Although the trio seems more than capable of rocking as they are, a lack of singers “strands them at the starting line” when it comes to performing live, as Beck puts it.
Despite not having a set lead vocalist, Winesburgh steps up, tracking their lyrics. Beck and Cheek are also set up with mics and all three occasionally combine during the chorus lines.
Once they find a reliable singer, the city of Chattanooga will get to see Dave and the Sons of Mind perform at your local venue again or, as Dave had joked in passing, performing at Humprey’s Flowers.
Meet the Storytellers
Nessa Parrish – Head Editor
Nessa Parrish is the Editor for Rising Rock and is currently a senior at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. She is a highly adaptable and dedicated individual with over 10 years of videography experience. She seeks to highlight and document the voices of individuals whose stories deserve attention through visual storytelling. You can contact her at Nessaparrish@gmail.com.
Seth Carpenter is a student journalist writing for Rising Rock. His work has been featured in The University Echo. During the COVID-19 pandemic, Seth told the story of a local church providing students in need with food. Primarily, he hopes his work can make a difference for those around him. If you have a story to tell, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Olivia Ross is a photojournalist located in Chattanooga, TN. She is the Photo Editor for UT Chattanooga’s student-run newspaper, The Echo. After 3 semesters as a staff photographer, she quickly gained skills within photo editing softwares and communication etiquette that led to her promotion. Her main interest lies within capturing pivotal moments in both sports and news. Olivia Ross is currently open to new opportunities. For more information, contact Olivia Ross at NGK419@MOCS.UTC.EDU.
Logan Stapleton is an aspiring multimedia storyteller using his skills of videography and photography to highlight what makes people human. He has adapted his skills to work alongside others, absorbing whatever advice he can take to progress his storytelling to the next-level in order to accurately represent his subjects. To learn more about Logan and his work visit RisingRock.net, theutcecho.com, or email him at email@example.com.
David Whalen takes outdoor sports documentation to new heights. His written adventure stories are accompanied by the visual spectacle of the hidden, hard to reach and natural wonders of Chattanooga outdoors. His hobby of Rock climbing has humble beginnings but now has become a lifetime passion. Dave uses rock climbing to explore the great outdoors and tell stories of those who choose the paths less traveled. For more information and possible collaboration please contact: Davidwhalen5@gmail.com