Flower shop offers an oasis of scents, sights
Bouquets By Carolyn (BBC) is known as the first African American woman-owned floral shop in St. Paul. Shop owner Carolyn Smaller grew up in the historic Rondo neighborhood. Floral design sparked her interest when she attended a class with her friend. “I did take a course over 30 years ago. I took it just for fun. I ended up loving it. I kept making flowers,” Smaller said.
She launched the full-service wedding and floral shop in 1990. “I used to be on Grand Ave. I was there for several years and they asked me if I minded moving.” She chose to move and continue her legacy.
Smaller initially began creating artificial floral arrangements. Later on, she expanded the product line and incorporated fresh flower bouquets. It was a lucrative business move. She explained, “They started ordering right away. Customers helped me sustain the business and kept me alive. I have been very fortunate and blessed,” said Smaller. Her family has also been very supportive ever since she opened the first location.
In 2002, Bouquets by Carolyn relocated to the beloved Rondo neighborhood at 920 Selby Ave. St. Paul. The neighborhood has embraced her business and she’s thankful. “I’m so happy to be sitting on this corner of Selby and Milton,” Smaller said. “I’m so happy to be around Black-owned businesses.”
According to Smaller, there aren’t many Black-owned businesses around and support is crucial. “The community needs black businesses. Keep as many as we can. We need our own to survive.”
At BBC, everyone will find a fragrant variety of beautiful and couture flower arrangements. Smaller said, “My shop is stocked with green plants, gifts, flowers. Everything sells.” There are also rare and exotic flowers available. She added, “I have all access to flowers. Bird of paradise to oriental lily.”
Overall, there’s an array of fresh flowers and one-of-a-kind gifts to choose from. Customers have the option to order a single rose or an elaborate floral arrangement. Delivery is available and orders must be at least $30.
Operating a floral business serves as an oasis and escape. Smaller explained, “I keep from getting bored. I don’t like sitting at home. My husband passed a few years ago.” She added, “I do like arranging—that’s what kept me in business so long.”
Throughout the week, Smaller’s adult granddaughter helps out and fills orders. “I do have help, my granddaughter started when she was 11. Now she comes in every day of the week. I couldn’t do it without her,” Smaller said. They work together in an effort to create the most exquisite and eye-catching floral arrangements.
“Most rewarding aspect of business is that it’s still open,” Smaller said. “My customers like me being here.” She’s grateful that her customers are supportive and gracious. As a result, the business receives five-star reviews quite frequently. “I only send out fresh flowers, because you’re gonna hear from your customers,” Smaller said.
She added, “Really rewarding for me to be here. I hope I can last another five years.”
Like most small businesses, COVID-19 has impacted BBC. “At first I was keeping my door locked. They’d have to call and I’ll come to the door. Now my door is open—no mask, no service! I hear the pandemic is going to be worse and I can’t afford to get sick,” Smaller said. Customers have been complying and showing a lot of support for her business.
Despite the coronavirus pandemic, business has ticked up in recent months. “I was only doing four arrangements a day,” said Smaller, “but it went to 10 arrangements per day.”
Cooperative economics has also helped BBC become successful. Smaller explained, “I couldn’t do it without the public. They have really embraced me right now. Because I’m a network florist, I can send orders all over the United States.” Lately, she’s been receiving and filling a lot of orders nationwide.
Smaller shared advice for upcoming entrepreneurs; “If you have a passion and want to open a business, take your time, look at what you really want to do. Take your time, don’t rush into anything.”
She added, “I encourage customers to support Black businesses. It’s discouraging when you’re encouraged and then no one comes in. Stop in. I have gifts, journals, aprons, pillows and tapestry.”
For more info, go to www.bouquetsbycarolyn.net or call 651-487-8122. Store hours are Tuesday-Thursday, 10 am to 6 pm; Friday, 10 am to 5 pm and Saturday, 10 am to 3 pm.
Ashley Lauren is a contributing writer at the MN Spokesman-Recorder.