Longtime Lewiston florist Bonnie Henrickson savors a warehouse full of flowers like a hungry person attacking a full buffet.
“Look at those colors!” Henrickson exclaimed this week while admiring an arrangement of Shimmer roses, their buttery, peach-hued petals topping dark green stems like scoops of ice cream. “Aren’t they delicious? Imagine the most delicious thing you ever tasted. Is that satisfying or what?”
Henrickson and her dedicated crew of helpers at Hills Valley Floral naturally have their work cut out for them leading up to Valentine’s Day, an all-hands-on-deck season that only comes in second to Mother’s Day in terms of sales. On Wednesday, they were dividing and conquering, with some whipping up requests for walk-in customers while others were busy in back rooms taking orders, arranging bouquets and coordinating deliveries.
Henrickson bought the 102-year-old business in 2015 after years spent working for the longtime owner at Stillings and Embry Florists, Sharla Hubbard. Hubbard retired and closed that business last year, but she has been on hand this week at Hills Valley Floral to help make sure every bud, bouquet and gift basket makes it to the right place.
“It’s tremendous that I have this group of women helping me,” Henrickson said of the part-timers she calls her love doctors, including Hubbard. “She knows the town. Thirty-one years doing this, she’s got a good sense of where everyone is.”
Henrickson has also worked as a nurse, but she appears to have a true calling as someone who knows how to help people without the use of medicine. Some folks have a heart to win. Others have a fence to mend. But she can say whatever is necessary through the careful application of color, form and aroma.
“Flowers speak, and they are the universal language, too,” she said. “You get flowers, and they touch you. You get that little tingle. It’s acknowledgement, somebody reaching out to you.”
She describes the blooms and other plants that come from growers around the world as “little love notes from God” since they don’t have to be pretty to survive. Birds and bees will find them with their sharp instincts and senses, “but he made them beautiful just for us.”
Tom Gehring, 62, of Cottonwood, came into the Bryden Avenue shop on his way home from Spokane earlier this week looking for Valentine’s Day expressions of love for his wife, Sherry Gehring, and his mother, Anna Gehring. He said he’d pick up some flowers a little closer to home, but just happened to be passing through.
“I normally go to Grangeville or Cottonwood and pick them up fresh and local,” Gehring said while waiting for some roses and orchids. “I just like to support the local flower shops.”
There are two florists left in the Lewiston-Clarkston Valley, Hubbard said. Once there were 12. Much of the business was taken over by “box stores,” Henrickson added, including the many grocery stores that added floral departments over the years. But that means there is little competition left in the full-service fresh flower business for regular events like funerals and weddings, and the surges of business that come ahead of floral-oriented holidays.
Things weren’t always so busy, but that turned out to be a blessing since Henrickson was hit with the one-two punch of losing her mother and getting a cancer diagnosis around the time she bought Hills Valley Floral. The store kept her busy enough to keep her mind off the negative things happening in her life, while business was still slow enough to give her moments to breathe and even read a book.
“I felt like this was a real gift because it gave me something to focus on,” she said of going into business on her own. “It gave me something to be outside of myself. I didn’t miss a day’s work. But since that summer, there’s been no reading books. There’s been no downtime.”
It doesn’t take much prodding to get Henrickson to opine on topics that range from the state of her business to the state of the world. She joked that her verbosity can slow the workflow when she gets excited about helping customers, especially those with particular tastes.
“It’s a Catch-22 because we’re so busy, but I want to engage and talk,” she said. “It’s intense. I’m intense.”
Her old boss jumped in.
“Amen,” Hubbard agreed. “She is.”
Henrickson said she can’t help but empathize with every person who walks through her door.
“Don’t sweat the small stuff?” she scoffed. “None of it is small stuff.”
Mills may be contacted at email@example.com or (208) 848-2266.