Turning a Hobby into a Legacy

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Jo Ann Dewar opened Fairview Greenhouses in 1974. Photo by Bruce DeBoer.



The recipe for sprouting a plant is much like that of creating a solid business plan: Add light, nourishment and room to grow. 

For Jo Ann Dewar, however, who had aspirations to start a garden center in the early 1970s as a female entrepreneur, the formula wasn’t quite so straightforward. Now 90 years old—and still the first to arrive and last to leave Fairview Garden Center each day—Dewar looks back on her decades as a business owner, saying she wouldn’t change a thing. 

“I’ve made a lot of mistakes along the way—probably enough to write a book—but I try not to make the same ones twice,” she says. “You won’t be blessed with success if you don’t learn from your mistakes.”

Raised on a tobacco farm in Harnett County, Dewar discovered her passion for plants as a young girl. “I’ve always loved playing in the dirt and seeing what I can get to grow,” she says. Growing up on a farm comes with not only fun, but hard work as well. “I have always been a hard worker, and it taught me from an early age that you have to work hard to get what you want,” she says.


Sewing the Seeds

A chance meeting at Dewar’s high school led her to work at the FBI in Washington, D.C. as a fingerprint analyst under the direction of J. Edgar Hoover. Though the handful of years she spent away from farm life makes for an interesting fun fact, she knew she was meant for fresh air rather than the confines of a federal building. “Fingerprints are much like propagating plants,” she muses. “Each root is like its own signature, as is a fingerprint.”

When she and her husband, Tom, moved to a rural stretch of land on Holly Springs Road in the 1960s, it wasn’t long before the mother of four turned her green thumb into a backyard hobby. Tom built a Quonset hut-style greenhouse for his wife to “play around in.” Unbeknownst to her at the time, this small greenhouse set the scene for a generational legacy.

“What you see here today is the result of a hobby that grew into a business before we really knew what we were doing,” she shares as she looks around the now 62,000-squarefoot greenhouse. “We didn’t set out to start a business, but we knew that my product was good and there was a demand for it.”

During the 1980s, new neighborhoods in the area created more demand for Fairview Garden Center’s plants and flowers. Photo by Bruce DeBoer.

Trailblazing Tenacity

Knowing she had the talent, drive and ambition to start selling her plants, Dewar set out to turn her passion into a business. Little did she know, she would become a trailblazer in a male-dominated industry.

When business started to take off, she and Tom did all the manual labor themselves; pouring concrete and hammering nails. She would plant all day and keep the books at night, raising her children in-between. Though she didn’t want to borrow money, they couldn’t afford the infrastructure, let alone the cost of heating the greenhouse and insurance to protect all they had built.

In the early 1970s, however, women could not apply for credit without a man co-signing the loans. Passage of the Equal Credit Opportunity Act, which would allow women to obtain credit cards apart from their husbands, did not happen until 1974. “The banks wouldn’t even talk to me without my husband there to sign the papers,” Dewar says. “We didn’t even know what a business plan was; we just knew that I was good with plants and that there was a demand for it.”

With no formal education in business or horticulture, the idea to turn her hobby into a business “took a lot of guts, I’ll tell you that much,” she says. “But doesn’t everything that’s worth it?”

Dewar is the first to arrive and the last to leave the garden center each day. Photo by Bruce DeBoer.

Open for Business

Fairview Greenhouses opened as a wholesale company in 1974. It started out by selling to local grocery stores like Winn-Dixie, and continued operating that way for nearly a decade until the family opened their first retail garden center in 1986. 

By that time, neighborhoods with new residents who wanted to buy flowers had begun populating the area. As more customers came, they built more greenhouses to suit their demand. At that time, Dewar and her family began referring to the business as Fairview Garden Center.

Additional family members stepped in to help the flourishing business. Dewar’s parents assisted with planting, and her sister drove the delivery truck. Dewar’s children began to work at the garden center as teens, making it a true family affair. Fairview Garden Center is now in its third generation as a family business.

Though Dewar’s husband has passed away, she is surrounded by children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren daily. “I can’t imagine having done all this without my family by my side,” she says, gratefully. “It fills me with pride that they want to continue what I started all those years ago.”

When Dewar is not “playing in dirt,” she enjoys fishing on the coast. But whether she’s in a greenhouse or boat, she is always in her element. “I get to see God’s beauty every day, not only in nature, but in people and family,” she says. “What more could I ask for?”

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