Longtime family business changing ownership

Pullman Herald Wed. March 29, 1978

Herald Intern

Neill’s Flowers and Gifts when it had a fountain and grill besides flowers … And, now, with new owner Mitch Chandler (left) and retiring proprietor Greg Neill. 

One of the oldest businesses in Pullman is changing hands this week. Nell’s Flower and Gift shot is being sold after nearly 70 years under the Neill name.” I guess I’ve been in this business long enough it’s time to try something new,” Gregory Neill said.

Neill’s father, Roy, started the business in 1910, as a greenhouse on Military Hill between Lark and Charlotte Streets.

“It was called Cougar View Greenhouse, and my dad would make daily deliveries to Dutton’s Candy Store on Main Street where people could buy fresh flowers.” Neill explained that Dutton’s was located about where Creighton’s Men Store is presently.

In 1920 his father bought the present store which was a confectioner’s shop. From 1920 to 1940 it served as a combination fountain, grill and flower shop. “Prior to 1940 it was the only real fountain in town and all the kids from the university would come down.”

Neill and his brothers and sisters spent a good deal of their young years working in the store.” We made all our own candy and ice cream — it was tough work, he recalled.

In 1940 the building was remodeled, the fountain and grill closed and the name changed from Neill’s Sweet Shop to Neill’s Flowers and Gifts.

Neill said his father was facing stiffer competition from other fountains downtown,” and besides, he was running out of kids at home to run it.”

Having children around the store has become a family tradition, however. The Neill’s have four children, and they all grew up spending many hours with their folks at the store.

Neill spent several years at WSU in the thirties, and then five years in the Navy in World War II, serving in the Pacific. He returned to Pullman in 1945 and went into the family business. He and his wife, Tillie, have been running the store since 1957, when his father retired.

The elder Neill lives in Panorama City, near Olympia, but usually visits Pullman each summer. “When he visits the store he tells us how they used to do everything different, or he’ll go around gasping at the prices,” Neill laughed.

Neill is selling out to Mitch Chandler and his wife Mari Jo, “because he wants it, I guess.” Chandler promises to keep the business basically the same. Neill will stay in Pullman and go into business with his brother-in-law, who owns Franz Realty.

The Neill family has been in Pullman for a long time. Thomas Neill, Gregory’s grandfather came in the 1880’s and is considered one of the town fathers. Except for his time in the service, Gregory has spent his whole life here. Asked if he would ever leave, he said, “Sometime I might, but it’s a pretty good town, really.”

FLORISTS AT WORK – Greg Neill (left), his wife Tillie (center) and Maxine Eddy keep busy hours designing and arranging a variety of flower orders daily. Neill’s Flowers and Girt Shot, now the only florist store in Pullman, received approximately 40 orders on an average day and is really flooded with orders on special holidays (resulting in) a busy schedule for personnel in the horticulture business.

Pullman Herald
Oct. 19, 1967

Palouse Profile

Rose or Topiary; Florist Arranges Flowers to Joy Winners

Herald Staff Reporter

GREG NEIL HAS been in the florist business since 1945, but the family name has been around for some time longer. Greg’s father, Roy, first started the business in 1910, when he built greenhouses known as College View Greenhouses on top of Military Hill in the vicinity of Lark and Charlotte Streets.

Roy, who is now retired and living in Panorama City near Olympia, moved the business to its present location at 120 Main in 1921, and the shop’s name was changed to Neill’s Sweet Shop, fountain lunch, candy and flower shop all in one.

In 1940, the shop was rebuilt and renamed to Neill’s Flowers and Gifts, and it has remained so since. As the flower business picked up, the fountain lunch was removed, and now the store specializes in mainly flowers, cards and various gifts.

GREG HAS ALWAYS lived in Pullman and he is one of a long list of area Neills. He was born Oct. 18, 1918 and graduated from high school in 1937. Greg attended Washington State University (then College) for three years, where he majored in horticulture, and in 1941 he became a flight instructor for an Army Contract School.

Greg stated, “I’ve always enjoyed flying and I picked up my pilot’s license here in the Pullman area before I instructed in the Army.” Greg married his wife, Tillie, whom he met when she was attending school at Lewis-Clark Normal in Lewiston, in Phoenix, in 1941, and in 1942 he crossed over services and joined the Navy as an instructor and transportation pilot.

IN DECEMBER, 1945, Greg and Tillie returned to home-sweet-home in Pullman, where he went back to work at his father’s florist shop. Roy Neill retired in 1957, and Greg has been in full command since. He and Tillie both work full time at the shop together with four full-time and four part-time employees.

Greg stated, “This is the way we operate on an average day basis, but on holidays or other special days, we really run a full crew. Christmas, Valentine’s Day, Easter and Mother’s Day are usually our busiest days, and it really becomes crowded around here. Why sometimes we even have to phone from the back room to the front desk because there’s no room to walk between the two places. We work long hours, but it is an enjoyable and pleasing type of work.”

BEING INQUISTIVE about various types of arrangements, this reporter asked what flowers and style seemed to be the most popular, and how long does it take to make up these arrangements? To this, Tillie, who was also in the back room working with Greg and full-time employee Maxine Eddy on orders replied: “Well, roses seem to be the most popular and they are also the easiest to arrange. I would say it takes approximately 10 minutes to do a rose order (an arrangement of a dozen or so), but some may take even longer, depending on the particular style.”

Greg further commented, “Yes, and I believe mixed arrangements are the most difficult order to place. Sometimes, a mixed arrangement will take up to 20 minutes. Miniature flowers are also difficult to arrange, but on average orders, the mixed styles take the most time to complete.”

Ask what was remembered to be one of the most unusual arrangements made in the shop, Maxine started, “We’ve made up so many intriguing arrangements, it’s difficult to note just what was the most unusual, but Greg once styled a Topiary tree done with orchids, and it was different but beautiful.”

THIS REPORTER was also curious as to what kind of training florist employees go through before they are allowed to work on arrangements.

Greg remarked, “Well, it may be surprising, but none of our employees as been specially trained as such to arrange. They learn the business here – an on-the-job training situation, you might say. The best way to learn is through experience, and believes me arranging flowers in quite an experience.”

Tillie continued, “It takes approximately two years to learn your way around the shop. That seems like a surprisingly long time, but this is a touchy business, and it can’t be learned in just a few days. Styling various flower arrangements is simply a matter of learning through doing, and(its) seemed to work out well that way for us here.”

NEILL’S FLOWERS are shipped in daily from Spokane, and sometimes even twice daily. Greg explained, “We usually receive shipments each day, but when it gets busy, we need more flowers. The flowers are stored in two refrigerated here in the shop, one a window display in the store front and one on the rear of the building.”

The Neills reside in Pullman at 308 W. Main, and they are four children, three of them married girls, Mary Lou, Carolee, and Nancy. Gary, 16, is a sophomore at Pullman High School. Greg and Tillie are also grandparents of three children.

The florist business is a busy business, but according to the Neills, it is most interesting. Tillie stated:
“National statistics show that they average person buys flowers twice a year, so if you multiply that by the number of potential flower orders in Pullman, you can see that we keep busy.”

GREG AND TILLIE Neill enjoy their work, but as Greg stated, “If you want to become a florist, you must be willing to work at least 8 to 10 hours each day and many times even longer. But it is an unusual occupation and one that is extremely interesting if you enjoy horticulture.”

Friday, April 5, 1946
Pullman Herald 
2nd Annual Town and Country Edition
Page 3

Pullman Florist For Over 35 years

Father and son, Roy and Gregory Neill, are pictured here in their store which is one of the modern in the Northwest. They merchandise Flowers, Pictures, Greeting Cards, Novelty Gifts, Etc., and a gift from Neill’s is a distinctive gift indeed.

Member of the Florist Telegraphers Delivery Association since 1921

In continuous business in Pullman for 35 1/2 years. That’s the record of Neill’s Flowers Shop and for the past 25 years this business has been operating in its present location at 120 Main Street here. Roy Neill started business here in 1910 with a flower stand in Dutton’s Confectionery in addition to selling direct from his Greenhouse. In August 1920, Neill’s moved into their present location with a flower, gift and confectionery shop, but in 1941 the building as remodeled and
space was given over to the enlargement of the gift and candy counters along with the Flower Shop.

Roy Neill said that 1945 was his best business year in his 35 years of operation, and that during 1943-1944, when the Air Corps students were here, he sold more orchids than his total for the past 20 years.

During the past two Christmases and Mother’s Days he received a tremendous volume of incoming orders from overseas, and during the month of May, 1945, a new high was reaching in outgoing orders.

Gregory Neill, who returned from service with the Naval Air Transport Command October 28, is now in partnership with his father.

Neill’s new purchase all of their flowers from Spokane after disposing of their Greenhouses in 1942.


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