Flowers have been part of the Sanderson family’s lives for decades, dating back to a patriarch’s fascination with tropical plants while stationed in the South Pacific during World War II.
Centerway Floral has served as the family flower hub for 50 years. Friday, the Sandersons sold the shop and turned over control to new owners.
Ron and Rhoda Sanderson have owned the store since 1998, when they took over after the death of Ron’s mother, Charlotte. But after Ron’s triple bypass surgery last year, they knew it was time to consider retirement.
“We enjoy doing this, and we still do, but we’d like some time to go travel,” Rhoda said, noting they have two sons and young grandkids living in Cincinnati.
The Sandersons have earned the break. They built their business on good customer service and high-quality arrangements people can’t find at a big-box retailer. Rhoda believes the shop’s repeat customers—sometimes generations from the same family—keep coming back because employees try to personalize each order.
Whether they’re planning a funeral, wedding, anniversary or another occasion, customers have brought in personal items highlighting a family member’s passion. Arrangements have been designed around ice skates, cowboy boots and even a slide trombone, Ron said.
Ron said he and his four siblings all worked in Centerway Floral growing up, and a few had their own shops. They picked up the passion from their father, Merlin, who cultivated the interest while he was surrounded by exotic plants in the Navy.
Back in Wisconsin, Merlin started two other flower shops on the outskirts of Janesville, one in Fulton and rented greenhouse space near Riverside Park. But it was Centerway Floral that became the family’s second home, Ron said.
The shop is in an unusual location. Tucked in a residential stretch of Centerway just east of Milton Avenue, it’s the only business on the block.
Ron and Rhoda credit their employees and strong customer base for helping them thrive despite not being near a strip mall or other commercial stretch.
“I think people come back to places that treat them well. I know I’m that way when I go shopping,” Rhoda said. “If people don’t pay any attention to you, you’re not going to go back. Like, ‘It’s a job to wait on me?’ No.”
While Ron and Rhoda are stepping aside, the shop’s daily operation will stay true to family tradition. The new owners, Tonya Williams and Alexander Fieiras, will continue to do floral arrangements and build on the Sanderson reputation.
“We want everything to continue. It’s been there 51 years. We don’t want to change that,” Fieiras said. “We want to continue what they built to be a great tradition in the Janesville area.”
Williams and Fieiras plan to update a few things. They’ll give the store a website and social media presence, neither of which it currently has.
They plan to use the greenhouse to grow food using a hydroponic system. The shop’s new name, Centerway Flower Shop and Greenhouse, will reflect that.
The Sanderson family will still be represented. Ron and Rhoda’s daughter Angie Garey and their niece Bernadette Sanderson will continue working there.
Fieiras and Williams don’t have much of a floral background, so they’ll focus on hydroponic food. Angie and Bernadette will be essential to maintaining the business’s floral side, and Fieiras calls them “our stars.”
Ron and Rhoda will make a return appearance in just a few weeks as the store prepares for Valentine’s Day, the busiest time of the year.
The names on the ownership deed have changed. The name on the external sign will change. But inside, the shop still will produce the floral artwork that has made it a Janesville institution for many families.