They say when life gives you lemons, you make lemonade. Well, if life gives you an abundance of fresh flowers and you can’t open your flower shop to the public because of a pandemic, you make bouquets. That’s exactly what Bruce Walentowski and Joshua Jameson did.
Walentowski is the owner of Flowers from the Heart, which he started in Crandon 35 years ago. Jameson was working for him when he discovered what looked like the ideal opportunity to expand the enterprise — in 2019, the only two shops in Antigo which sold fresh-cut flowers closed due to the owners retiring.
“We made the decision in December of 2019 to open up a flower shop in Antigo,” said Jameson, who manages the Antigo location. That shop was christened Flowers from the Heart on Fifth and opened its doors in leased space in the front of a building on Fifth Avenue on Feb. 1, 2020. “We opened up in time for Valentine’s Day, and then Covid hit,” he said. “That was tough for us.”
While they still were able to fill orders, they weren’t open for people to stop in and shop. “What got us through the pandemic was the fact that when we closed, we weren’t, we did offer some things,” he said. “We started donating fresh flowers for the staff at the hospital (Aspirus Langlade Hospital) right when the pandemic hit. We’ve been doing that ever since.”
After a shutdown for a couple months at the height of the pandemic, Walentowski and Jameson were able to get back to work in-house at their respective locations. “The two of us worked 12 to 18 hours a day until business picked up and we could bring staff in,” he said.
Things were going well at the new shop until they were given another hurdle to jump over. Last year 5th Avenue, Antigo’s main downtown thoroughfare, was closed for reconstruction. “For several months we had no foot traffic. It was a double whammy,” said Jameson.
Business finally took a turn in a positive direction when the street opened again last October. “Business took off,” Walentowski said. “People were sending flowers and coming in to our store — not to just get flowers but for gift items as well. People started to have larger funerals, that snow-balled, and we had a really great couple of months.”
That increase in business led them to buy the building next door at 819 5th Ave earlier this year. “We weren’t planning on doing that but we were out of space,” he said. “We remodeled the store, mostly ourselves and our staff. We worked on the project through two major holidays — Valentine’s Day and Mother’s Day.”
Since the building was in essence being gutted, they were able to redesign the space to fit their specific needs. The Crandon shop is 4,000 square feet, but the Antigo location is a quarter of that size — most of square footage is now designated as design space. “When we got in there, we said, ‘If we’re going to do this, we’re going to do this the right way,” he said. “We considered the space as a whole and how we could make it accessible to our designers, speeding up the process of what we do and having things at arm’s reach. It’s an amazing design center and really top of the line.”
As manager, Jameson has control over what they carry in their store. “In this new location we’ve been able to expand a little bit more of what we’re offering,” he said. “We have fresh-cut flowers, we have green plants, we have blooming plants, we have a gift line, candles, pictures, antiques, we offer tuxedo rentals. People come in for weddings, funerals, birthdays, anniversaries and major holidays.”
We used to be in the middle of a desolate block. Now, people are buying old big buildings and remodeling. You see these small businesses start to build and you really become a team. You root for each other. That’s what you have to do.
— Joshua Jameson, manager,
Flowers from the Heart on Fifth,
Opening a new retail shop in downtown Antigo didn’t just help the local citizens with their flower needs, but it’s helping revitalize the downtown as a whole. “Downtowns really died when they built bypasses to route traffic away from downtowns. When they did that in Antigo, the north side of town ballooned with big box stores and fast-food businesses and other businesses. Small downtown shops can’t compete with the big box stores,” Jameson said.
“To revitalize these downtowns, you have to have a certain niche — boutique shopping where it’s one-of-a-kind things,” he said. “Make visiting an experience, offer things that no one else is offering in town. Antigo is not a big tourism place. If you don’t have tourism and a ton of lakes, you have to focus on the community. Small businesses have to realize that they have to give back to the community in order to gain community support and for local people to come in.”
Jameson said it’s essential to support other area businesses. “That’s why we do a lot of local goods,” he said. “We have a local person that does wool blankets and totes and things like that, there’s a local honey producer outside of town, there’s a maple syrup person that’s close to Antigo, there’s a candlemaker close to Antigo, we sell only her candles.”
That formula has worked well for them. “The other key to our success is having amazing people work with you,” he said. “We hit the jackpot, the staff (eight total) that we have is the most incredible, funny, caring, hard-working group of people you could ever imagine.”
Running Flowers from the Heart on Fifth is a gratifying experience for Jameson. “The best part of it all is to know you’re making an impact, not just as a business but something that can be an anchor to the downtown,” he said. “We used to be in the middle of a desolate block. Now, people are buying old big buildings and remodeling. You see these small businesses start to build and you really become a team. You root for each other. That’s what you have to do.”