The Flower Shoppe moves up the street to Blaine by Elyse Kaner, Staff Writer
She's on her customers' speed dials. Those who have cheated on her come back and swear they'll never do it again. Some fear she has gone out of business. But Mary Lou Box's The Flower Shoppe remains a constant in the Twin Cities northern suburbs. Last summer, in her 40th year of operation, Box moved her popular business one block north to 86th and Central Avenue in Blaine from her former location on Spring Lake Park by Nicklow's Cafe & Bar. The move affords her better visibility on Highway 65. Plus she has gone from 2,218 square feet to more than 2,600 square feet. "I love it. Isn't it nice?" Box says, at her new shop as she gestures to her surroundings, a fragrant and floral wonderland dressed in holiday finery. Still, she longs for a little more space for her vast inventory. For an office.
Not the usual shop
Box's store isn't the usual flower shop. Her longevity speaks volumes to a business that has survived four recessions and, consequently, a number of floral boutiques and growers calling it quits. A 20-year customer stopped at her shop the other day. David Sathre of Fridley bought two bright-red poinsettieas. Box helped him sort through the flowers and select the ones he wanted. He likes her personal service. "I come here because she has super fresh stuff that lasts longer than any I've bought before," he said. Box offers him help carrying the flowers to his car. "Is your trunk warm?" she asks. Ultimately, she tucks a complimentary flower in with his purchase. Poinsettias in shaes of reds, peach, pale pinks, burgundies and more, line the aisles of her store like toy soldiers as you walk in. Decorations with splashes of gold and silver glitter and crystal glam up the displays. But it it's the flowers that are the stars of the show. Roses in all colors. A pale shade of line, for instance. Dusty lilac. Calla lilies in deep burgundy. Flowers with parents. Flowers with such beauty, they almost take on a personality of their own begging shoppers to "take me home."
Box, a resident of Spring Lake Park, had been thinking about moving her shop to gain more space. When space became avaiable at the former Flavors Abroad, a Mid Eastern and Asian specialty market at 8654 Central Ave., Box jumped at the opportunity. And it was close to her former shop. She now has more shelving, more furniture. More space to display her glassware, vases, cards, picture frames and such. And glorious flowers. Floral arrangements, cut flowers, plants and more. Box sells to small businesses, corporations and the public. She is a wholesaler and retailer. She sells sympathy flowers and flowers to the do-it-yourself-bride. Her poinsettias are Minnesota grown and most of her flowers are purchase in the United States. She buys directly from the grower, passing the savings along to her customers. Many of her customers, ranging from low to high income, are relieved to find her in her new location. "you're now on my speed dial," some say. With others, her service has to relationship status. I've cheated on you once. I'll never chart on you again," a return customer told Box. She's heard it more than once, she said.
Moving was hard
One Valentine's Day in 2005, she sold more than 65,000 roses. Box, by the way, gives a complimentary flower with practically all purchases. Although she declined to state revenue figures, Box did note that the cost to move has been significant both in the loss of business and moving expenses. She used funds from her business and personal savings to finance the move. In her more than 40 years of business, this is Box's first relocation. "I never dreamed it would be so hard," she said. Packing and repacking thousands of pieces of merchandise. She is still unpacking. And things aren't in their usual places. "You can be blindfolded and you know where everything is at, but you get another 500 square feet and the disorientation has been tremendous," she said. A built in freezer lines the back of the shop. But freezers are, well, unkind to flowers. Box came up with a solution. She merely raised the temperature setting of the cooler - 40 degrees. A perfect setting for her flower storage. Industry standard for roses is about 34 degrees, Box says. But she finds the flowers last longer at the higher temperature. "Customer after customer has told us our flowers last longer," Box says. "We have a fast rotation. That's why they last."
Over the years, Box has seen changes overtake the floral industry. Four recessions. Competition from big box stores. New flowers, some with patents. Growers and shops folding under the competition. The floral design work has changed as well. When she first started in the business, every flower in a bridal bouquet was hand wired, a time consuming task. The hand-wired trend moved to hand-tied flowers in a holder and then to bouquets with stems showing. Now, customers are again requesting flowers arranged in a holder for better hydration, Box said. The flowers last longer. There's also a constant change of color trends as well. Aqua and gold and aqua and silver are big now, Box said. especially for weddings and Christmas trees. Champagne and off-white are popular as well as red. "Bronze is huge," she said. Along with its beauty, the flower business comes with many challenges. Box describes it as extremely intense labor for a small amount of profit. There's a lot of heavy lifting. Some of the boxes are as long as three-and-a-half feet. Some weigh 60 pounds. "But when you open them up and there are these gorgeous flowers and you say, on my gosh, what's why I'm in the business," Box said. "Actually, this is aroma therapy in a way." And tehre are the long hours. Box has pit in many a 14- and 15-hour days. "She's married to her business," said floral designer Denise Neubold-Aly. Another challenge is estimating the amount of flowers Box needs to order. "When you buy 10,000 carnations, two cents can make a difference," she says. For now, she employs five part-time workers, inculding floral designers and staff.
She sold from a truck
In her earlier years, Box had worked at a risk insurance comapny and she styled wigs at Dayton's department store. But it was the floral industry that won her over. She started out small. From 1966 to 1970, she sold flowers from a truck at the corner of Central Avenue and 85th. Business was so good, she opened a shop just across the highway. "We'd pull people across the street to our new store and that's helped build up our business tremendously." she said. Although she no longer sells on that particular sorner, during East and Mother's Day she does sell flowers on corners in Coon Rapids, Ham Lake and Spring Lke Park. Box later opened kiosks at Ridgedale, Southdale, Burnsville, the Mall of America and Rosedale. But the recession has been unkind to the satellite shops. She now operates only her Rosedale location on weekends and holidays. Starting in January at her new Blaine location, which she is leasing, Box will offer floral design lessons for do-it-yourself weddings and occasions. The new shop also is large enough to allow customers to observe the floral designers at work. Her dream, Box says, would be to purchase the building. "Our hope is to stay in the business, flourish and expand," she said. Box thinks about her customers she has met throughout four decades, her business, the challenges. The changes. "It's something you have to love and have a passion for," she said. "I'ts physically and emotionally taxing. But how can you not want to be around such beautiful things?"
The Flower Shoppe 8654 Central Avenue Blaine, MN 55434 See on Map
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Our building used to be a Holiday Gas station, was
renovated to be an Asian grocer, and now is our home!