Flower Girls

These partners always have time to smell the roses

by Chris Farnsworth and Virginia Lindauer Simmon

buds_and_roses2016In 2006 Sharon Niquette became the manager of Buds & Roses, a flower shop in Taft Corners in Williston. In 2008, she and her daughter Heather Hutchins bought the business.

No less famous a New Englander than Ralph Waldo Emerson once wrote, “The earth laughs in flowers.” We use them to celebrate our marriages, to beautify our homes, and to mourn our dead. Flowers have even been used as a form of cryptological communication in the past, with plants like mimosas symbolizing chastity, or a yellow rose for friendship.

buds_and_roses_heather2016Heather Hutchins is co-owner with her mother of Buds & Roses.

Sharon Niquette has spent most of her life tending flowers. She and her daughter Heather Hutchins own Buds & Roses in Williston. A descendant of Thomas Chittenden, Vermont’s first governor, Niquette’s father, Howard Chittenden, owned a farm in South Burlington where she grew up with her siblings, John, Dianne, and her late half brother, Bill.

After her father purchased a local florist shop, Niquette learned the business and found herself running the place by 1969, the year she graduated from high school. In 1970, she opened Flowers By Sharon in Essex, which she ran for 20 years before taking a job with Claussen’s Florists, a job she held for the next 10 years.

By then, she had met and married Richard Niquette. “We were married May 4, 1973, the day Secretariat won,” she says with a chuckle. They had three children, Heather, Greg, and KayTee.

The culture of a smaller shop was calling, so she joined Centerpiece Florist in Essex. During her time there, the owner of Centerpiece bought Buds & Roses in Williston. In 2006, Niquette took over management of Buds & Roses, helped by her recently married daughter Heather Hutchins, who had been working for Centerpiece part time. In 2008, the two of them bought the business.

Hutchins also grew up surrounded by flowers. A 1994 graduate of Burlington High School, she earned a degree in psychology from Sacred Heart University and worked in the profession for several years before joining her mother. “I went to school for psychology,” Hutchins says, “but I grew up in a flower store.”

Through the years, Niquette has watched the changing industry and adapted along with it. “You have to have your niche,” she says. “You have to know what you’re doing and have something special that you make. You have to do something beautiful.”

Niquette and Hutchins run the shop by themselves, using their individual talents to do exactly what Niquette believes is necessary to carve out a spot in an industry now dominated by big corporations like Costco and FTD.

The first step in finding their niche was to expand the kinds of flowers they sold. “There wasn’t much variety before,” Hutchins explains, mentioning Alstroemeria, or Peruvian lily, as a common offering.

However, both give a moment to consider some of the older trends they miss. For example, carnations, which “get a bad name” according to Hutchins “and are now considered a funeral flower mostly,” although she hopes new varieties and colors might make it popular once more.

Such are the changing tastes in the world of flowers — an ever-evolving market the two women keep a close eye on by using Pinterest (the online content-sharing service), and attending workshops with other designers.

In the shop, Hutchins channels her creativity into custom arrangements that have proved quite popular with the clientele. She’s even entered some of her creations into the Champlain Valley Fair’s flower design competition.

A photograph of one of her canine arrangements features a little flower dog sitting beside their real dogs, three shih tzus who often greet customers upon arrival.

Niquette has her own specialties. “The market isn’t as great as it used to be for them, but I just really love doing dried and silk flower arrangements,” she says.

Janelle Leduc has been a customer of the shop for years, going back to the earlier days when Niquette ran Flowers By Sharon.

“They know me just by the sound of my voice!” Leduc says with a laugh. “They’re incredible. They don’t treat you like someone off the street; they’re personable.”

Leduc orders flowers for her personal needs as well as arrangements for her employer, DEW Construction Corp.

“The quality of their work, I just can’t say enough,” she raves. “They know what flowers I like, they know what I might prefer, and they’ve never let me down.”

“You have to be really personalized with the customer,” Niquette says. “It’s so temperamental in the flower business. With funeral work, think about what you’re dealing with. Sometimes you have to grieve with them. And weddings, too, you have to handle in a certain kind of way. You can’t get upset if things get stressful.”

Those stressful situations intensify around the big flower holidays such as Valentine’s Day and Mother’s Day when the two are working six days a week. “The night before Valentine’s Day we’re in until 2 in the morning,” says Hutchins.

They attribute the changing face of their business to a number of factors, including the rise of big corporate stores like Costco and Trader Joe’s that sell flowers in bulk, as well as the difficulties online retailers such as 1-800-Flowers pose to smaller florists like theirs.

“People don’t understand when they’re calling these places that they’re not calling a direct florist,” Hutchins says of the online shops. “They’re calling people who are shopping their order to a florist.” The result, she adds, is often that flowers show up far from fresh, and sometimes aren’t delivered at all.

Regarding other difficulties in the flower business, both women laugh.

“Well, you have some people who don’t understand Mother Nature,” says Niquette. “For instance, we had some crop failures last year, mostly on dahlias and a couple other flowers.” Wedding vendors in particular were unprepared for the lack of dahlias, a favorite at weddings. “We had to issue a note to the vendors and those kinds of people, saying, ‘Hey, you have to be ready to substitute. It’s Mother Nature.’”

She expresses concern for the recent flooding in the South, particularly in Florida where many flowers are brought up from South America before being distributed throughout the country.

“It happens in winter, too,” says Hutchins. “Some people get upset we have to call ahead before delivering, but you can’t leave flowers outside if no one is there in Vermont in the winter, you know?

“One of my favorite things is when you deliver flowers and you see that smile on someone’s face,” Hutchins says.

Both do gardening at home, and Niquette has recently picked up painting. She likes to play the piano, and sees herself volunteering after she retires, teaching her art to senior citizens. She often takes flowers to nursing homes such as Starr Farm in Burlington.

Hutchins was a triple athlete in school, and continued playing soccer, basketball, and softball in various adult leagues afterwards, but the arrival of her children brought that to a halt. Now she and her husband, Frank, who owns a farm in Cambridge, spend most of their time with their son, Chase (age 7), and daughter Skylar (age 2).

Skylar particularly enjoys being in the shop. “She likes to sweep up,” Niquette says of her granddaughter with some glee. “She tries to clean up everything!”

The possibility of a third generation’s taking over Buds & Roses is too early to predict, although Niquette is doubtful, citing the harsh realities of running a local business in modern times.

Hutchins seems more open to the possibility. She is perhaps recalling how she was, as a 7-year-old in her mother’s flower shop, staring at the color and beauty that would one day define her own profession. •