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Coatney: A connection in the midst of chaos
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Coatney: A connection in the midst of chaos

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I’ve been in the flower business since the age of eighteen, but I’ve never experienced anything quite like this. These days, this is not an unusual statement for any business, or for that matter anyone, to make. So many businesses have had to adjust or close. The floral industry has had its challenges as well.

The lockdown in Wyoming has come and mostly gone, but the flower shop where I currently work kept the doors open from the beginning of it. We came each day like usual, but there was little or nothing to do, except look at pictures on the internet of tons of flowers being bulldozed into huge piles to be dumped. We tried to talk about and visualize different scenarios if the store had to shut down as we gazed out the windows at the deserted streets. While the owner researched the Cares Act for possible financial aid, finding out that floral was classified as non-essential and ineligible, the prospect of closure loomed before us like a thickening fog.

There was no traffic anywhere in town. My commute on I-25 was the same-I had the highway all to myself. A bit unnerving to say the least.

Much of a flower shop’s business comes over the phone and through internet shopping with order gathering services and a flower shop’s website. As two weeks turned into three, then four, another unexpected thing began to happen, although slowly.

People started calling, asking if we were open and were we delivering. We were still able to get flowers, but the supply chain had definitely been disrupted, like many other supply chains. A customer would occasionally venture in, surprised we were open and delivering.

Customers wanted to remember birthdays, anniversaries; let their family, friends, coworkers know they were thinking of and missing them; brighten someone’s day, or wish them to get well, or encourage someone by saying this situation would end... someday, or to remember someone who had died, by sending flowers.

The confidence given to us to communicate this was gratifying. People suddenly told to stay as secluded as possible because of a dangerous virus were turning to flower arrangements as a way to soothe souls and say something beyond words to give hope and solace, for both the givers and receivers, who were having a difficult time with the isolation. The messages on the enclosure cards reflected just that.

The number of orders grew day by day, and on holidays grew exponentially, stressing our capacity to fill them. Incredibly grateful for the business, it nonetheless pushed us to limits even beyond what we were used to at the holidays. No-contact delivering was non-stop during these times. Drivers had to call all recipients to let them know there were flowers being left on their porches.

Wearing masks was and is a necessary part of our being able to stay open and function safely. We may possibly still be wearing masks for most of 2021. It’s seems the responsible thing to do.

I had several occasions to talk to other florists around the country. They also were experiencing the same increases in orders. I found, too, that there were a number of flower shops that when I tried to call them to transfer an order, had left messages on their answering machines saying they had permanently closed.

I got my start in the flower business because of my dad. He came home one day and said he’d purchased the flower shop at the Hilltop Shopping Center. That was in 1970. My mom about dropped her teeth, and hers were not false.

We all learned what we thought of the business while my parents owned the shop. For me, my floral “career” has many memories. It’s a large part of the backdrop of my life.

I’d have to argue with the term non-essential. Like the shop’s message on the sign out front has said for the past couple of months “Flowers visit when you can’t,” it suggests a connection to an hoped for easing in the midst of the chaos created by a frightening foe.

I have grown to appreciate the meaning of working with flowers even more as I get older; how just the other day a mother had to order funeral flowers for her son over the phone, how her voice broke when she told me. And still after all these years, I stumble over the words “I’m so sorry” that sound completely inadequate. I just hope the flowers made for her conveys so much more than that.

Linda Coatney has her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in English and creative writing and has worked as in arts administration and as an editor for the Wyoming Arts Council. She currently works as a florist in Cheyenne

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