Beauty in Bloom

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Gusport Inc. delivery truck as truck owner and driver John Gustafson carries some flowers.

Color is everywhere. On the inside, that is. Notably at Holly’s Flowers on this day.

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Gabriel adds up the value of a just-completed arrangement.

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Kami (left) and Kathi Moses unwrap and sort fresh flowers.

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An eye for yellow, Moses sorts fresh blooms.

Outside, on the corner of Alder and Colville streets, fall is finally a real presence. Rain has fallen steadily for hours from a solid cloud cover. The sidewalks hold a sheen, dimly reflecting what little light is in the autumn sky.

Through the door with the jangly bell, however, it’s like being in Candy Land, if the children’s game had been created with florists in mind.

Begin at “Start” with the store’s main showroom, painted in a rich truffle brown and hosting vibrant sunflowers, scented candles and the orange and olive of autumn décor.

A metal tree with lighted, crystal blossoms takes center stage of one of the shop’s large windows, laden with rosy-pink silk roses hanging like the ripest apples.

But nothing compared to what’s in the store’s coolers — one for blossoms, the other for greens.

There are brilliant orange gerbera daisies, ball-like blue hydrangeas, delicate pink spray roses, creamy white miniature calla lilies, vibrant snapdragons, purple iris and gold-splashed red tulips, now available year-round and “very, very popular at Christmas,” said shop owner Kathy Moses.

The florist greens — curly, brushy, tall and slender, exploding with tiny leaves — roll exotically on the tongue. Salal, plumosa, honey bracelet, tileaf, seeded eucalyptus, broom corn.

All this before the flower delivery truck arrived to offer new infusions of loveliness.

The fresh product is but one part of the plethora of visual treats. Spools of ribbon are everywhere in the store, which is deceptively large, stretching back for half a city block and boasting a full basement.

All the better to store hundreds of props, branches, enormous baskets, specialty vases and chandeliers.

One never knows what might get used in a wedding setting, Moses pointed out on a tour of the below-ground area.

Paper lanterns, Christmas trees, a huge and winged Valentine’s heart live down here, along with the original neon, double-blossom flower sign that once told everyone on Main Street where O’Con’s Flowers could be found and where Moses got her start as a designer, as well.

And there is — yes — more ribbon.

Velvety pink with white buttons, delicate blue flowers on white silk, glittery gold dots on sheer green, wispy brown, lengths of silver loops. One set of shelves away are plastic totes, filled with teensy characters and bearing labels such as “owls and penguins,” “cats and dogs,” “lobster.”

Holly’s is all about being prepared, Moses said. “If someone wants something with a lobster in it, we have the lobster décor.”

Having that kind of inventory isn’t as easy to do these days as it once was, however.

Moses has been in the florist business since 1980, buying Holly’s in 2007, she said, her smile going wry. “That was the year the economy collapsed. I wondered if we would survive,”

Across America, an enormous number of flower shops closed as would-be customers went to supermarkets and grocery stores to sate their floral urges, Moses explained. Not altogether bad news for the industry, she believes. “We like to see people buying flowers at Safeway, it means they like flowers. But I want to be there when they can’t get to the store, or they need something special, need something delivered.”

In this recession, independent florists had to change their focus and become a team, especially those in the same town, she said. “We help each other out, come together to provide for our customers. We used to look at each other as competitors and now we look at each other as partners.”

Flowers still matter a lot to people, noted John Gustafson of Gusport Inc. in Portland. He has arrived at Holly’s to bring Moses and her staff dozens of examples of the finest from his wholesale market on wheels.

Gustafson, who majored in business in college, started his company in 1979 after working for a flower wholesaler on the West side and noticing the eastern parts of Washington and Oregon were largely ignored.

He had the truck with the 26-foot refrigerated box custom manufactured in the Midwest and now makes a 750-mile loop over three days every week to supply 36 accounts in the region.

He get much of his stock from the Miami flower markets — most fresh flowers sold in the United States come from South America — and delivers them to his clients, literally to the back door at Holly’s Flowers.

The economy has not caused any wilting on his end of the circle, Gustafson said, ferrying in massive bundles of flowers as head designer Olaya Gabriel lists what she needs.

“What I do is so unique. People can buy what they want and don’t have to buy a whole shipment. Any type of flower they want, I can get it.”

As the workroom’s floor fills up, Moses and her daughter, Kami Moses, begin the routine — get flower food into water-filled buckets, get blossoms and greens into those. “I call it CPR for flowers,” Kathy Moses said.

Strip foliage, cut stems. Refrigerate. All part of keeping the cold chain tight and not something usually found in the way flowers are handled at box stores, she said.

The women work fast, although Kami, in her role as customer service representative, must dash to help customers, in the shop and on the phone.

Phone orders can be fun, Kathy said. Some people call with an exact bouquet in mind, one they perhaps saw online. Others have no idea what they want. Once customers explain the occasion, staff is often able to guide them to something unique, created just for that moment. “You’re not sending the flower,” the proprietor said. “You’re sending the feeling.”

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