The Flower Lady’s largest bouquet – the business is for sale

“What colors? What fragrance?” asked Vivian Darst when a customer walked into her shop The Flower Lady on Eastlake Ave. saying he wanted to spend $45 on a bouquet. There was a brief discussion of roses before she headed into the cooler full of flowers.

“She’s the best,” the man told me. He’d been coming for years. Did he know the shop was closing? No, he didn’t. It will be a huge loss, he added. “Where will I buy my flowers?”

Vivian came back, her hands full of pink and purple flowers; yes, the lease is up August 31 she told him. (It had been extended from April.) She was still trying to figure out what to do. A broker had brought her a potential buyer, but she didn’t know who it was or if it was going to go anywhere.

After about 10 minutes of arranging flowers and conversation, the man left with a spectacular bouquet and a hug.

This was going to be the hardest part, she said; she would miss her customers.

Vivian Darst at her shop arranging flowers.

The arrangement The Flower Lady would like best is to find a buyer who might also hire her as an occasional employee or consultant. She could help — giving the owner the luxury of vacations she never really got. She’d love to keep her hand in the business doing the floral designing and working with customers, but after 20 years of running the shop and recent rent increases, she’s ready to let someone else worry about making payroll and paying the bills.

Many people remember The Flower Lady’s first stand sprouting up in the mid-1970s at the vacant lot at the corner of Roanoke and Harvard. At that time, it was a scrappy business called Vivian’s Flowers run out of a van with buckets of flowers and a couple of sun umbrellas. (My younger sister got her first job there.)

Eventually she bought part of the property but then got caught in a high-profile zoning battle. News reporters kept referring to her as The Flower Lady.

The legal battle uprooted her to the other side of the freeway.

“Those sun umbrellas outside the store today are pretty much where they were when this place was a vacant lot,” said Vivian.

When the property owner wanted to develop the lot, the flower stand uprooted again this time just several feet over to a vacant lot next to the Larson building. By that time she had the luxury of a shed, and they moved it with a forklift.

The building went up with a space designed specifically for The Flower Lady, and she moved in. It was 700 square feet, palatial to Vivian. Along with flowers, she filled it with gifts and cards, and the store flourished for many years.

This is a good business for someone with a well-off spouse, or if someone can figure out how to sell something else along with the flowers, said Vivian. The eclectic selection of gifts has not done well in recent years. Wine maybe, maybe cannabis, Vivian suggests with a smile as if the thought just occurred to her.

Except for the stuffed animals used in bouquets, the gifts, including a couple of Tibetan rugs hanging from the ceiling, are all 25% off. She’s willing to bargain lower on some things as well.

Whatever happens she’ll keep a hand in the flower business.  It’s in her blood. She’s a third-generation flower dealer. Her grandfather was a farmer who started with a few bulbs when her dad was a boy. Her dad grew flowers his whole life, mostly irises, daffodils, and sunflowers. It kept him going, she said. He was driving and delivering wholesale flowers around the region until he was 95, a year before he died.

But he was always borrowing from Peter to pay Paul, Vivian added, and she’s had to do some of that as well to keep the shop going – subsidizing it with income from her rentals.

Still it’s been a joy working here, said Vivian, surrounded by all these beautiful flowers that change with the seasons, and meeting people.

That she doesn’t want to lose it’s clear.

If there’s no buyer for the shop, people will be able to find out what’s next on her website: www.seattleflowerlady.com.

She can see continuing deliveries and taking special orders. She may go back to her roots with what would now be known as a pop-up stand.

Whatever she does she’ll always be The Flower Lady.

Vivian in front of the shop she’s run for over 20 years.

Featured image is a detail from an original painting of The Flower Lady storefront by Jerry Becker Steffen, Jr.