Valentine’s veterans

For many Columbia flower vendors, Cupid’s holiday is good business but isn’t always a bed of roses.
Sunday, February 15, 2004 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 2:31 p.m. CDT, Friday, July 18, 2008

The curtains are closed and the lights are off. After what one of Columbia’s local romance emporiums calls the “busiest day of the year,” a tired owner closes shop.

It’s been 24 hours since the last hurried inquiry for Valentine’s Day flowers was made. All day long, the staff at Kent’s Floral Gallery and Gifts filled requests ranging from the mundane ( a dozen roses) to the exotic (a serenading Elvis impersonator) for its customers.

Today is a day of rest. Saturday was a different story.

While most sweethearts only see the smiling delivery person at the door, getting the flowers prepared and delivered is a daunting task. And it’s the behind-the-scenes work that makes Valentine’s Day flow smoothly.

Vendors wake up at 3 a.m. to bring the flowers. Store employees gather in the backroom to put together bouquets at triple-speed. Finally, delivery people duck in and out all day, checking local maps and picking up truckloads of flowers.

Kent Anderson, the flower gallery’s namesake, is a hands-on owner. At 8 a.m. on Valentine’s Day, he’s getting ready with his crew. But even though he lives and breathes flowers and romanticism, he’s not really a fan of the holiday.

“Valentine’s Day is not my favorite,” Anderson said. With that said, he loves the effect his fresh-cut flowers have on people. While making deliveries this week, he spoke to a friend who works at a local bank. She confessed that she never gets flowers on Valentine’s Day, so he arranged to have a bouquet sent to her.

“I love to make people’s days,” Anderson said.

For two other flower vendors, being intricately involved in the business side of Valentine’s Day makes the holiday just another day on the job.

“When I bring flowers home, it’s not a big deal,” said Robbie Wilcox, an employee of Mears Floral Products, a wholesale company in Springfield, Mo. Ironically, he and his wife, who also works for Mears, don’t celebrate Valentine’s Day.

“We’re both just so tired,” he said.

Wilcox and Randy Aldridge make the trip up to Columbia twice a week, leaving at 3 a.m. to ensure they reach their customers in time. Aldridge and Wilcox supply nearly all of Columbia’s flower markets, including Kent’s, Allen’s Flowers Inc., Bloomers, Ambrosia Custom Floral Design and Gifts, My Secret Garden, and grocery stores Gerbes and Patricia’s IGA.

Kent’s floral designer Lora Schnurbusch doesn’t really celebrate Valentine’s Day either, although she admits that her husband loves flowers. But she doesn’t bring them home for the occasion.

“The last thing I want to do is take flowers home and arrange them,” she said.

Although they’re worn out, the employees and delivery people can still laugh about past Valentine’s Day delivery stories.

Schnurbusch once worked in a Springfield, Mo., flower shop with an older man who helped with deliveries. A woman to whom he once brought flowers was so excited to receive them that she threw up her hands in surprise and accidentally dropped her towel to the floor, Schnurbusch said. From that year on, the man always asked to deliver to that same address.

One year, in Columbia, a man routinely called every flower shop in the city to order flowers. If a woman delivered the flowers, he would drop his clothes and flash her. If a man was doing the job, he wouldn’t open the door or he would pretend it was the wrong address, Anderson said.

Eventually, police asked Anderson if they could do the next delivery. The orders stopped shortly afterward.

Regardless of what happens this year, the staff knows one thing is certain: Today will bring welcome relief to an overwhelmed and hard-working group of people. With another Valentine’s Day in the books, most employees plan to spend today resting.

“I’ll go to church and then go home and collapse,” Anderson said. “We’re all ready to go home and put our feet up.”

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