OLD TOWN — Luke Carroll, co-owner of Green Inc. in Old Town, was 3 years old when his mother opened the flower shop five decades ago.
Inara Carroll opened Green Inc. in 1973 with Jean Alan at the corner of Dickens Avenue and Clark Street. When it moved to its current storefront at 1718 N. Wells St. a year later, he remembers painting the shop’s walls sky blue.
Alan left the business after a year, while Inara Carroll continued with it, Luke Carroll said. The shop was run almost entirely by women, who worked barefoot as they potted plants and served customers.
“It was another time then,” Luke Carroll said. “And everyone worked together to serve those clients.”
Now celebrating its 50th anniversary, Green Inc. has since expanded into the adjacent corner store and started offering flowers, Luke Carroll said. But it’s sky-blue walls — and many of its original customers — remain.
“We’ve served these people in all the stages of their lives,” said Luke Carroll, who spoke for the business while his mother worked in the shop. “We remember their families and even their tastes. They’ve been a constant in our business over the years.”
From Founding To Post-Pandemic Recovery
Inara Carroll, who is Latvian, spent part of her upbringing in Germany and loved nature since childhood.
She decided to make a business off her passion for plants after she and her husband divorced, Luke Carroll said. She partnered with Alan to found Green Inc.
“They both were divorced mothers who needed to make income for their families, so they joined forces,” Luke Carroll said. “Jean Alan is an interior designer and left after a year, and my mother continued her journey with this.”
In 1975, a year after moving into its current location, Green Inc. expanded into the store at the corner of Wells Street and St. Paul Avenue, Luke Carroll said. That’s around the time it also started offering flowers.
“I remember the flowers back then were different than they are now,” he said. “They were like birds of paradise and orange lilies, so they had really bright, sexy ’70s colors. It was very vivid.”
Now, Green Inc. has the largest selection of cut flowers in Chicago, he said. Its offerings include tropical house plants, orchid plants, ethnographic antiques, vases and other decorative items.
But getting to this point wasn’t always easy, he said. Green Inc. has navigated multiple recessions, including in the 1980s, the 2000s housing bubble and, most recently, the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The COVID pandemic was the most vivid, recent challenge and was also very terrifying,” Luke Carroll said.
Luke Carroll was sick for three months with COVID-related pneumonia, he said. His mother refused to close the shop, so she ran it alone seven days a week for an entire month.
“She never closed, which means nobody could ever say ‘Oh, I heard they’re closed’ or think that we had gone out of business,” Luke Carroll said. “So she stayed here constantly and saved our business.”
Green Inc. didn’t apply for any grants or financial assistance from the city because the owners didn’t know at the time if they’d have to pay the money back, Luke Carroll said. Long-time customers, which range from families to large businesses like Skidmore Owings & Merrill, supported the shop by ordering flowers for their friends, homes and other businesses while events were largely canceled.
“It was the lowest it had ever been in the history of our shop,” Luke Carroll said. “We had no assistance of any kind, and then we came back three times stronger because we were focused on not dying and answering our clients’ calls.”
Thanking Clients And Improving The Business
Luke Carroll and his mother have been low-key in celebrating the shop’s 50th anniversary, he said. They’ve celebrated by sending flowers as a “thank you” to some of their oldest clients.
“I haven’t figured out the best version of how to celebrate yet,” he said. “I think thanking clients is the best thing to do.”
About half of the business’ clients are families that have been coming in since the ’70s and ’80s, Luke Carroll said.
“And we’ve been there for them in so many moments of their whole lives,” he said. “It’s their home, when they have a party, their office, when they send gifts to contacts, their child’s special occasion, weddings or showers. We’ve been there for each family in so many ways.”
Green Inc.’s location in Old Town has helped the business boom over the years. Many of its clients come from the Gold Coast, Old Town and Lincoln Park.
“We’ve always had the option to have an event space out west or some building with a loading dock, but then we wouldn’t have the walk-in clientele and base that we serve here.”
Also key to Green Inc.’s success has been Inara Carroll’s standard for quality, her son said. She chooses products based on what’s in season from purveyors she’s known personally for decades.
“My mother has led the way with enjoying what she works with and having conviction in how she does it,” Carroll said.
Seeing Green Inc. reach 50 years has given Luke Carroll a deeper respect for the business, he said. His future goals are to keep improving on its offerings while while modernizing to serve more clients more efficiently.
“Green Inc. has been here and fed our lives for all these years,” Carroll said. “It makes you want to take care of it and keep improving on the business.”
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