Tornado damage and recovery in Old North Dayton. CHRIS STEWART / STAFF
Photo: Chris Stewart
Photo: Chris Stewart

Nearly wiped out, Oberer’s Flowers to expand following tornado

A 97-year-old Dayton company nearly destroyed by a Memorial Day tornado has plans to expand production locally and open more retail locations across Ohio and in nearby states.

The EF4 tornado that hit Oberer’s Flowers took the windows out of 13 vans and two box trucks, peeled back the roofs on its Troy Street showroom and warehouse, damaged the original 1922 greenhouse, and shattered beyond repair three more greenhouses and three hoop houses.

The damage toll came in between $700,000 and $800,000, said co-owner Keith Fields.

The company has moved production temporarily across the street and the 1922 greenhouse has been repaired. But salvage operations are underway in the other six heavily damaged structures before they are demolished.

“We talked about growth before and how that process would look, but this (tornado) basically forced our hand to do it sooner rather than later,” Fields said.

Oberer’s plans a new $2 million warehouse and production facility. The building, up to 18,000 square feet, will be designed to serve the company’s four current locations as well as new ones proposed for Ohio and neighboring states.

“That will allow us to rebuild and be more efficient and allow us to have room to grow in other areas,” said Fields, who owns the company along with Greg Turner.

In addition to Dayton, Oberer’s currently operates in Columbus, Indianapolis, Louisville and West Chester. Expansion plans include placing larger stores in Cleveland, Lexington, Ky., and Ft. Wayne, Ind. Smaller versions are being considered for Chillicothe, Mansfield and Toledo, according to the company.

The company sells up to 300,000 floral arrangements a year, 90 percent of them made in Dayton, Fields said. In addition to daily specials, the company sells arrangements for a variety of occasions and offers floral design classes.

Nearly six months after the tornado, hundreds of clay pots and thousands of shards litter the ground under the hoop houses.

Seth Gilbert was hired after the tornado to help the company pick up the pieces and salvage what was possible.

“There was glass and hardware everywhere,” said Gilbert as he worked in a tattered greenhouse recently unbolting tables that once held flats of flowers.

Oberer’s currently employs 160 people, Fields said. Between 70-80 employees work in Dayton with that number growing to 100 after the expansion, Fields said. No fewer than 93 percent of permanent employees are full time, though the company does hire temporary drivers during big delivery days like Valentine’s Day and Mother’s Day.

The company was one of 387 commercial or industrial properties in Montgomery County damaged in the tornadoes and applied through the auditor’s office to have its tax value adjusted, like 1,268 property owners.

Though a majority of the 4,434 total properties damaged were residential, the 9% that were businesses accounted for about 40% of the county’s $46.3 million loss in tax value, the auditor announced last week.

Construction for Oberer’s new Dayton facility will begin in four to five weeks, Fields said.

“We are just looking forward to growing and coming back bigger and stronger than ever and helping the community,” he said.

A majority of the flowers used by Oberer’s arrive from South America, but deliveries also originate in California, China and Holland. The new building will have loading docks to accommodate the two to three semi-trucks daily that turn off Troy Street onto Oberer Drive.

Fields said the city is supportive of the company’s expansion plans and has agreed to strengthen the base of a pot hole-riddled Oberer Drive and repave it.

Construction on the new building is expected to take up to nine months. The company is actively scouting locations in Cleveland for a retail outlet, anticipating opening there in early 2021.

Fields and Turner in the past year bought out two other former store managers, Craig Casey and Eric Battle, who also ended up with shares of the company following the death in 2018 of former owner Randy Oberer.

“Basically, we suffered two losses right together,” Fields said.

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