People have been buying bundles of blooms under the Luepke sign in downtown Vancouver since 1909. The gigantic round window on the corner of 13th and Washington has probably showcased thousands of displays over the decades, with perhaps millions of blossoms. The long-lived floral business grew from the flower stand opened by Texas transplants Frank and Edla Luepke. Their son, Rudolph, inherited the business and oversaw the construction of the landmark Luepke Building in the late 30s. Rudolph—known as Rudy—went on to become president of the Vancouver Chamber of Commerce, Clark County’s First Citizen and a city council member before serving as Vancouver’s mayor for two terms in the late 60s.
When local developer Bruno Amicci purchased the building in 2014 with a plan to update and reopen it as Luepke Station, he also bought the florist business. He and partner Kerry Kurth refurbished the shop, but retained many vintage elements, such as the globe lighting fixtures and the curved, glass-enclosed floral cooler. The original counters stayed, but were covered in stainless steel and outfitted with rollers so they could be moved around to accommodate displays. White subway tiles replaced dark wood paneling, the ceiling was painted, and additional track lighting installed. The massive front windows—reputedly shattered in the 1962 Columbus Day storm—still allow passersby glimpses of breathtaking seasonal arrangements, as well as some of the store’s fabulous “finds.”
“When Bruno purchased the business, the name was changed to Luepke Flowers & Finds to bring it up to modern times and give it a new twist,” says Tamara Szarowski, business manager and floral designer. “‘Finds,’ meaning treasures and what-not, specifically like home goods, a little bit of furniture, and some more upscale gift items that you don’t normally find in a florist.” Savvy shoppers can browse among an array of candles, scarves, wall art, pillows, natural body care and unusual containers and baskets. Customers can buy jewelry handcrafted by local artisans and paintings by local artists. Luepke’s even sells wine, champagne and chocolate—either as single items or artfully incorporated into floral arrangements.
A Century of History
But before Luepke’s could become today’s remarkable retail destination, there were layers of history to sort through—and ghosts to lay to rest. Where Tap Union Freehouse is now located, there was once was a garden supply store, a greenhouse and possibly a pet store. The property also includes a warehouse, which Szarowski says was filled with antique yard tools, old leather leashes and canary swings, plus Luepke’s old accounting ledgers and slides of “back-in-the-day” arrangements.
There had also been, in the 60s, an accounting business upstairs owned by Tilden Randall. “It was said he died here, in his office, of a broken heart,” shares Szarowski, who mentioned rumors of hauntings by Randall’s ghost, as well as spectral appearances by Rudy Luepke’s sister, Gertrude. “I personally have never experienced anything,” she adds. “If there were any ghosts here, they left with the previous owners.”
The florist shop had another unusual feature known only to employees. “We had a big, giant worktable that four to six of us could work at,” recalls Szarowski, who worked at Luepke’s before Amicci bought it. “Underneath, towards the end of that table, was a hole in the floor with a chute that went downstairs that we could sweep our foliage and petals into.” When Amicci purchased the business, he covered the chute because it might pose a danger to his white Yorkshire terrier, Marty, who’s also the store’s adorable mascot. (Look for squee-inducing pictures of Marty on Luepke’s website or on Facebook.)
A Modern Business Model
More than a century after Frank and Edla Luepke opened their flower stand, business is still blooming. Szarowski is proud of Luepke’s business model, which doesn’t rely on FTD or Teleflora to fulfill orders delivered nationwide (and even overseas). Instead, Luepke’s belongs to Flower Shop Network, which allows them to personally select their partner florists. This “enables us to use our own creativity and make our own designs,” explains Szarowski. “No two of our designs are alike. Nothing cookie-cutter.” When it comes to the flowers in the shop, “I totally buy local when possible,” enthuses Szarowski. “I personally go to the flower market about three times a week and hand pick almost all of our flowers, just because I am so picky and just to make sure that we have prime product to sell. We don’t settle for less than the best.”
Luepke Flowers & Finds hosts a “Flower Happy Hour” with discounts on all loose-stem flowers, which florists will arrange in a hand bouquet and wrap for free. “I just love it because I like to carry some more unusual, higher-end flowers,” says floral designer Tamara Szarowski, “and Happy Hour enables everybody to afford the higher end flowers.” Starting this spring, bloom-happy customers can also register for workshops in flower arranging, wreath-making, terrariums, flower crowns, corsages, and more. Luepke’s is a sought-after florist for weddings and other special occasions, and provides same-day delivery for orders in Clark County and Portland. Finally, Luepke’s is a proud member of Vancouver’s Downtown Association and makes regular donations to local nonprofits such as The Hough Foundation and SHARE.
People are drawn to Luepke’s not only because it’s a delightful place to shop but also because it’s so connected to Vancouver’s history. For younger customers who want to buy local, it’s trendy enough to be hipster-cool, and for older visitors, it’s a beautiful reminder that Vancouver’s present is just as vibrant as it’s past. “I love talking about this building and the history and this business,” says Szarowski, “because it’s my lifeline and I love everything about it. A Vancouver treasure!”
Luepke Flowers & Finds
1300 Washington Street