A foot of snow may have dropped on Chittenden County overnight this week, but for local florists gearing up for Valentine’s Day, the show had to go on.
Ribbons were carefully cut and swirled around vases, and particularly picked flowers were placed amongst greenery as the creative design process flurried around Essex and Colchester flower shops last Monday, Feb. 13.
“A good florist always carries a shovel, right?” joked Jon Houghton of Maplehurst Florist in Essex, noting when it comes to Valentine’s Day weather, you just never know.
In the midst of one of their busiest times of the year, Maplehurst and Colchester’s Claussen’s trudged on.
In Essex late Monday afternoon, about 80 arrangements were ready for a Tuesday delivery. Over at Claussen’s, a couple hundred deliveries went out between the 13th and 14th.
To make this happen, Houghton said florists need to be patient, energized and perpetually prepared.
While some customers call or walk in the door with a special customization in mind, others don’t quite know, which is where the patience comes in, Houghton said.
“It’s mainly men walking in the door, a little bit panicked, a little more excitement in their voice that they’ve gotta get the product out and delivered, and make sure that they choose something that’s just perfect for their sweetheart, which is always kind of a challenge,” Claussen’s Chris Conant said with a grin.
Conant, who’s been with the florist, greenhouse and perennial farm for 38 years, is starting to see a third generation of customers arrive at his shop for the heart-shaped chocolate boxes and red and pink flowers.
Preparing for these purchases though, isn’t simple, he explained: The process begins after the Christmas holiday. Flowers are delivered to Claussen’s three or four days before the Feb. 14 holiday, but ribbons are made into bows and bases are taped long before.
Vases filled with greenery also lined both shops’ flower coolers in preparation for last-minute customers requesting an arrangement. That way, half the work is already done, Conant explained.
When customers come in last-minute, which they often do, employees try and put them at ease, Brenda Wheel of Claussen’s said.
“It doesn’t matter, we have the flowers, we’re gonna fix you up with something,” she added. “Bring it on.”
As she spoke, the phone rang as one fellow employee chatted with a customer and another stood delicately arranging an assortment in the design area — a place Houghton compared to the kitchen of a restaurant.
While the desks may get a bit messy, much of the behind-the-scenes organization comes from keeping detailed notes of previous years’ orders, including popular purchases, trendy items and the weather, Wheel, a 37-year employee, said.
When the 13th approaches, Claussen’s 20-year floral designer Cheryl Delorme said she knows her feet and back are going to hurt, usually clocking a 10 to 12 hour workday. The 13th, she said, is the shop’s busiest arrangement day, while the 14th is coined as a hectic delivery time.
Some deliveries, Houghton explained, are more thought-out or symbolic than others. He remembered delivering a dozen roses from a man serving overseas: 11 fresh, one silk.
“I’ll love you until the last rose wilts,” the attached card read.
For sentiments such as this, somebody has to be the messenger.
“It’s not so much us the florists so much as it’s the flowers as the vehicle to convey the message,” Houghton said.
Whether it’s a flower, two or a dozen, the picking process is an experience, Houghton said. Mother’s Day, Maplehurst’s busiest time of the year, is the same in that regard, he added.
When holidays like February 14 fall on a snowy day, both shops see less walk-in traffic, their owners explained as they stood in relatively quiet atmospheres last Monday, minus the phones ringing and fellow employees chatting.
There’s more traffic, too, when Valentine’s Day falls on or near a weekend. Houghton said his shop gets double the customers then.
Whether it was the snow or the day of the week, both shop owners said they face the reality that customers are deterred from making the extra stop at their shops. Instead, they may settle on a box of chocolates or bouquet from the grocery store out of convenience.
“People who give flowers give flowers very traditionally, and they don’t give up just because it’s snowing,” Wheel said, expecting the absent Monday crowd to show up Tuesday. “We’re Vermonters, so if we did that, we wouldn’t eat – we wouldn’t do anything.”
Some customers couldn’t imagine someone not wanting to get flowers, such as Sue Phillips of Colchester, who was picking up a rose and chocolate on behalf of her 15-year-old son.
People like Phillips are what keep the bows tying and designers’ hands flying during the love-filled holiday.
“It’s verification that flowers are wanted, and it’s a viable industry,” Houghton said.