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The Daily Tar Heel

Famed ‘?ower ladies’ dwindle

Lillie Pratt says she will continue to sell flowers on Franklin Street — as long as it makes her happy.

“Business is slow,” she said, “Almost nothing. But, well, it makes me happy.”

Stationed in front of the Bank of America branch with buckets of white carnations and pink and yellow daisies beside her, Pratt is now the only remaining Franklin Street “flower lady.”

Once a fixture in downtown, the number of flower ladies has dwindled in recent years.

In July, Pratt lost her longtime friend and fellow flower lady Bettie Jones.

Jones was 104 when she passed away and had been selling flowers with Pratt for most of her life.

“She was a good friend of mine, and she loved her flowers,” Pratt said. “She really enjoyed what she had to do.”

Jones, along with eight other women, began selling flowers after the Great Depression.

“They added beauty and creativity to Franklin, and they added income to their pockets,” said Rev. J.R. Manley.

Manley was the pastor at First Baptist Church in Chapel Hill for 65 years, and he spoke at Jones’ funeral in July.

“The flower ladies really add a flavor to this community,” said Manley.

“You can say a lot with a flower that you can’t say with words.”

Many of the flower ladies left Franklin Street after the town banned sidewalk selling in the mid-1970s, Manley said.

John Woodard, owner of Sutton’s Drug Store, said the large number of sidewalk sellers made it difficult for both pedestrians and brick-and-mortar stores.

“Everybody likes the flower ladies, but you can’t tell some businesses to leave and others to stay,” he said.

Pratt and Jones were among the few flower ladies who continued coming to Franklin Street following the sidewalk ban.

Woodard said the flower ladies were invited to sit in front of what is now the Bank of America plaza on Franklin Street. They first sat in the hallway of the building, but have since moved outside.

“The flower ladies make this place have a really great atmosphere,” he said. “I thought it was kind of nice when they sat in the hallway because they had a place to keep cool.”

Pratt said she plans to continue selling flowers.

“I’ll come back every year,” she said.

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