For the 34 years that florist Rick Cuneo has been leasing the Cherry Hill Flower Barn on Route 70, he says, "I never know what each day will bring."

One customer might want to discuss flowers for a wedding, another for a funeral, and the next for a birthday, a graduation, or an anniversary.

Want it with a white swan theme? Something nautical? Wizard of Oz? No problem.

Then, on July 21, a neighbor walked in and floored Cuneo with a piece of paper.

"Have you seen this?" the man asked.

It was a notice from the James Candy Co., owner of the Flower Barn building and Bayard's Chocolates shop next door, informing nearby property owners that Dunkin' Donuts was negotiating to buy the site.

"I was absolutely blindsided," Cuneo recalled Tuesday, wiping away tears. He knew nothing of the plan, he said. And when he called Frank Glaser, president of James Candy, his heart sank.

If Dunkin' Donuts acquired the property, it would let the Bayard's store - a two-story clapboard house fronted by four tall columns that is a local landmark - continue operating with a 10-year lease.

But Cuneo would have to go, he discovered. His whimsical, beloved barn was slated to be demolished to make way for a drive-through coffee shop.

"I started this store right out of college," Cuneo, 57, said with a sigh and a wave of his hand that took in the refrigerated lilies and roses, plush cats, ceramic birdhouses, grinning scarecrows, wicker wreaths, fabric owls and other gift items that crowd his shop's interior.

Set back from the busy state highway, the little white barn with the gambrel roof once served as a stable in the days when the nearby Garden State racetrack was thriving.

James Bayard Kelly, who created the Bayard's chocolates line in 1939, evidently acquired the barn in the early 1980s and relocated it beside his Cherry Hill store.

Except for one other tenant, said Cuneo, "I've been here ever since," leasing all the while on a month-to-month basis.

The arrangement also helps to explain why he didn't get the notice of Monday's planning board meeting that his neighbor received. James Candy was obligated only to notify nearby property owners - not tenants - of the hearing on Dunkin' Donuts' application.

The future of that application and the flower shop appears uncertain, however.

Members of the township planning board on Monday voiced numerous concerns about pedestrian safety and the number of parking spots that would be available on the site if the coffee shop moved in.

They also questioned whether, at times of peak volume, the number of cars seeking to use the drive-through window might back up onto adjacent streets, including Route 70. Members also said the Dunkin' Donuts' proposed signage appeared to block Bayard's signs, and could confuse drivers.

At the close of the hearing, Board Chair John Osorio suggested to Alan Lauer, Dunkin' Donuts' representative, that the chain might want to withdraw its application to do further "contemplation as to how to solve some of the problems."

Lauer's attorney, Peter M. Rhoads, did not return a call Tuesday to say whether his client was considering temporary withdrawal of the application.

The unresolved situation leaves Cuneo in a quandary.

"Where will I go?" he wondered. A strip mall about a mile east of his barn has vacancies, he discovered, "but they want five times the rent I'm paying here."

And he fears he could never replicate the flow of business he gets from customers shopping at Bayard's.

"I do unbelievable business at Easter, more than any other florist I know," he said, and some of their Christmas and Valentine's Day traffic overflows to him as well.

"I don't know how I would ever get that anyplace else."

Glaser did not return a call Tuesday to discuss why he did not apprise Cuneo sooner of Dunkin' Donuts' plans.

But he told the local online news site NJPen that he had no intention of terminating Flower Barn's lease before the property sale was complete, and that he would help Cuneo "any way I can."

doreilly@phillynews.com

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