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Tubbs of Flowers still abloom in Corpus Christi after 72 years

Bobbie McElhaney with Sadie (left), Raye Lyne McElhaney, and Jenniffer Miller with a display of arrangements and a photo of the late Gertrude Tubbs Baugh, founder of Tubbs of Flowers, where they all work. Bobbie McElhaney is president of the company, which was started by Baugh in 1946. Photo by Jane Kathleen Gregorio

For 72 years and counting, Tubbs of Flowers has been knocking on Corpus Christi doors bearing gifts of flowers, candy, kindness, and celebration. When Gertrude Tubbs Baugh, then a young widow, started her own business creating flower arrangements, she had nothing but her own tenacity and acumen as a businesswoman to help her succeed. She also had two children to feed, so the drive to survive was definitely part of the equation as well.

“It was 1946, just after World War II, and the only careers women were more accepted in were nurses or school teachers — not entrepreneurs,” said Bobbie McElhaney, who began working for the company in 1969. She is now president of Tubbs of Flowers. “Gertrude went to school and learned the flower business and, afterwards, moved from San Antonio to Corpus Christi.”

Tubbs began the business as ESCO Flowers because it was located behind Eastern Seed Co. After she remarried to designer and businessman Jerry Baugh, the couple decided to change the name to Tubbs of Flowers. It has since moved several times before settling in its current location on Staples Street. A succession of Tubbs and Baugh children all helped in the shop as the business became an established Corpus Christi icon.

McElhaney began as bookkeeper, moving her career from the bank across the street to the flower shop at an early age. She was married to Ray McElhaney, who had been working at the shop since he was in high school.

“His own parents decided to move to Houston, and he opted to stay,” McElhaney said. “Gertrude offered to let him live in her garage apartment while working, and that’s how he eventually became part of her family.”

Gertrude Tubbs Baugh died in 2013 at 96. She had outlived most of her family and friends. Although there were many grandchildren in the family, none wanted to take over the business, which is how McElhaney became president.

“In the flower business, no one wears one hat,” McElhaney said. “Everyone has to know how to do everything.”

With the help of Baugh and her husband, she soon learned how to design flower arrangements.

“Gertrude and Jerry taught my husband, who taught me, and the skill and craft is passed on to the next person,” she said. “Designing flowers was a lot more fun than making deposits at the bank.”

Of course, McElhaney now does both.

Staff member Jennifer Miller came to work at Tubbs of Flowers last year. She brings 20 years’ experience to the long-term operation.

“Even though I’ve worked the industry for two decades, Bobbie still shows me new ways of designing,” she said. “I’m learning from her on a monthly basis.”

Also working alongside McElhaney is her daughter, Raye Lyne McElhaney, who has been helping in the shop since she was a young girl.

“I love working with fresh flowers and being with my family; it’s indescribable,” Raye Lyne McElhaney said. “The smiles and gratitude from those receiving the flowers are the best.”

Bobbie McElhaney has seen the industry change over the years, mainly due to the influence of the internet. Before online ordering became popular, a person called and was able to directly tell the designer who and what the arrangement was for and how it should look, she explained. The hometown shop called in orders to other hometown shops for those that were going out of town.

“Now, you get on the internet and it’s deceiving because you have three or four order gatherers pop up in your search results,” McElhaney said. “They are not in the destination city but somewhere in California or New York, etcetera. People place an order with the gatherers, and they turn around and place the order with someone else. So, sometimes, customers get disappointed because the order doesn’t turn out exactly as they had expected.”

Her advice is to always add the ZIP code to an online search for “flower shops.”

“That way, you’ll know you’re not getting an order gatherer but rather a storefront inside that ZIP code,” McElhaney said.

Although she has worked at the flower shop for almost 50 years, McElhaney never tires of the business.

“I’m the last woman standing from our original group,” McElhaney said. “Carrying on the legacy of this family business makes me feel really good.”

The best part is meeting and getting to know so many different people.

“You go through so many life events together, from births to birthdays, from weddings to funerals. As my floral delivery truck driver once told another reporter, ‘I’m there on the most important days of your life. I bring you birthday and anniversary flowers. If you’re sick, I bring you flowers from someone who cares about you. If there’s a death in the family, I’m there for you with flowers.’ That’s what the flower business is about: making sure someone knows that another person is thinking about them. How can you get tired of that? It makes you feel good.”

Tubbs of Flowers Inc. is located at 4517 S. Staples St. in Corpus Christi. For more information, call (361) 993-1978 or (800) 288-1978. You can also visit tubbsofflowers.com.

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