ATLANTIC HIGHLANDS, NJ – When Sally Johnson closes the doors of Woodhaven Florist on West avenue at 5 p.m. Wednesday, it will mark the end of a century of providing flowers, decorations, last minute tips for important occasions, and an outpouring of love, tears, happiness and consolation. Woodhaven Florist has been a part of families for generations.
Johnson, who has owned the florist and gift job for 45 years, learned the business at the hands of it former owner, Elsie Holmes and her husband Harold, and laughs now recalling how the business transaction took place.
“My mom worked in the laundromat next door and Elsie was in one day and said she was looking for help. My mom told her I might be interested, so I went over.” Sally said she began learning from the experienced florist right from the start and spent her first two weeks making bows. “I can make bows pretty fast, and I was good at it, but I wanted to do more than make bows,” the outgoing florist said. “So I asked her if I could learn more.” Sally said Elsie smiled and said, “I was waiting for you to ask, of course.” She just wanted to be sure it was something I wanted to do and would stay doing it.” She did, and when Elsie died in 2005 and Harold wanted the business to continue in excellent hands, Sally took over and purchased the business. “I love it,” she sighed, “that was 19 years ago and I’ve been in the business 43 years. but now I’m tired.”
For the past several weeks, Sally has had a sale at the shop of the many gift items, vases, urns, baskets, and other paraphernalia that has been so popular at the shop over the years. She will be open Monday through Wednesday from 9a.m. to 5p.m., but after that, “I’m just going to rest. I’m tired and I want to travel.”
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The florist wasn’t always on West Ave., Sally explains. Elsie first started the business in her home which was located on First Avenue where the bank is today. She also used a greenhouse in Buttermilk Valley on Woodhaven Lane where she worked, but did not own.
Once Elsie knew Sally loved flowers at much as she did, she taught the quick and avid learner everything about the trade from how to arrange flowers, which flowers to use for which occasions, how to keep them looking fresher and lasting longer, and the importance of daily care. It is also important to know your customers, understand what they want, and be able to listen to them and also give them a shoulder to cry on when the situation calls for it, Sally added. All of which Elsie also taught her.
Funerals of course are the saddest part of the business, Sally explains, and the funeral of a child is particularly heartbreaking. She’s happy that she has been able to be a soft shoulder for tears, or a willing ear to listen and help soothe pain.
Weddings are the most joyful for the bride and her family once the arrangements are taken care of, but they can be extremely stressful and Sally has witnessed more then her share of disputes among in-laws, brides, and their mothers. “In the end,” she smiles, “I suggest to the bride that she cut her mom a little slack when the mother insists on certain arrangements or colors or designs, and just concentrate on the more important aspects. I tell them, ‘is it really worth your mom being that unhappy?’ and usually it works out.’
Proms are the most fun, the florist laughs, remembering the many times teen age boys would pull up to the florist shop in their rented limo, handsome in their tuxedos, but sheepishly begging for some help because the forgot to get a corsage! “It was wonderful to see them all dressed up and so excited, and of course we stayed to help, even if it was closing time, so long as we had the flowers to make the corsage.”
Sally still remembers the first delivery she had to make for a funeral. It was at Posten’s Funeral Home, and when she arrived, Kay Posten, wife of owner Bill Posten, told her to bring the flowers right into the viewing room. “It was the funeral of a five year old boy,” Sally said, the smile fading from her face, “I told Kay I have a five year old at home, and I just can’t go in there.” Kay Posten finished the delivery.
Between weddings, baptisms, confirmations, Holy Communions, birthday parties, Sweet Sixteen events, proms and other special occasions, Sally can count families in which she or Elsie has served five generations. “They get married because their parents had gotten flowers from us for other occasions, then they have babies, their babies get baptized, grow up through all the other occasions, and get married, and the line continues.”
There have been the funny events as well. Sally recalls the husband who came in regularly and bought red rose bouquets for his wife. On one occasion, when she had some spectacular pink roses that were unique, she suggested he try them instead and made an arrangement with the pink roses and a red rose for love in the center. Hours later, the husband returned and asked for another bouquet, this one of red roses. He explained his wife did not like the pink roses because they did not represent enough love, and threw the bouquet at him. “He wasn’t concerned,” Sally laughed, “and I made him another bouquet….of all red roses.”
Retiring was a decision Sally made three years ago, when she made up her mind she would sell the business when she was 65. She started advertising it in the floral world last year, and even made small bouquets she gave away. While there were some bites, there was no firm offer, the florist said, but she would still keep her intention to close it and retire when she reached that milestone. She did last month.
Any regrets? “Not a one,” she said firmly. “I’ll certainly miss my customers, they have been the best part of the work. But I have my garden at our home in Leonardo, and will continue to grow my flowers and vegetables there. And we’ll go on trips to see this beautiful country..I’m just happy I have been a part of helping to make people happy. “