Monday, May 20, 2024

Flower roots and family roots: The story behind local flower shop

April 15, 2024
B/A Florist awaits customers on April 12, 2024.
B/A Florist awaits customers on April 12, 2024.

Local flower shop, B/A Florist, holds a long history of love and family rooted in its values.

The store was first opened in Okemos in 1979 by Barbara Ann Hollowick, also known as B/A. It began in a tiny 800-square-foot shop where Hollowick only sold plants. Eventually, she added flowers, and the shop took off.

Hollowick said she earned her business degree from MSU in the early 1970s and started the shop because of her interest in the botanical world of business. 

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"I like to grow things; I like flowers. I like color, I like to be creative," Hollowick said.

Five years after she started the business, B/A florist had to relocate to a bigger space. In 1984, Hollowick bought the building B/A currently sits. The house was formerly a family home, which Hollowick then converted to her business. 

"It's really wonderful being part of important occasions in someone's life," said Hollowick.

Hollowick's daughter, Laurie Van Ark, took over the business in 2012 when Hollowick retired from floristry. Van Ark had been working at B/A long before she owned it. She worked part-time in high school and also graduated from MSU in 1984.

"Mom always had a green thumb. When she opened her business in Okemos she started selling window greenhouses and lean-to greenhouses," said Van Ark. "She put one up at the house and it was always filled with plants. Our house had plants all the time. Then she decided to add flowers in the business, just as a kind of add-on to maybe increase sales and that was the part that just took off."

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When Hollowick bought the East Lansing location, she had Van Ark get in the car. Van Ark said her mother pointed at it and said that it was the new location of the business. She said her mother "just saw the growth potential" of the new place.

In 2023, Van Ark was ready to spend more time with family after 44 years of working at B/A. She found current owner Sarah Soltis who has run the business since.

Soltis has worked in the floral industry since 1999. She said flowers are "all (she knows). It's what (she has) always done." She was enrolled in a floral/architecture science program before purchasing B/A.

Soltis said B/A sells flowers, plants and containers. She said they do event work as well, including weddings, sympathy flowers or any other events people would want flowers for. 

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Despite warm weather being the best growing season, Soltis said summer is the slowest season for the floral industry.

"If you really think about it, nobody's buying flowers for the Fourth of July. Also, students are not around for the year. They're off in the summer," Soltis said. "So for us, summers are slower. In the winter, there are lots of different holidays. Christmas and Thanksgiving and then Valentine's Day."

Valentine’s Day is the biggest holiday for floral shops, but it's also the most challenging, she said. 

"Leading up to Valentine's Day is the hardest. It is the hardest time to work in the floral business," said Hollowick. "You're [busy] with too much work."

Soltis spent her first day in the shop on Valentine's Day in 2023, the day after the mass shooting on MSU’s campus.

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Van Ark said that was the slowest Valentine's Day for them because of the stay-in-place order given to all of East Lansing and students who traveled home.

B/A had preordered flowers for Valentine's Day, which they ended up donating or giving away.

"We distributed them all over the place and we contacted numerous groups and they helped distribute them further," said Van Ark. "They would just walk around and offer people flowers just to help lighten the mood."

B/A takes pride in being deeply rooted in family tradition and community. Van Ark said they have customers who have been coming to them for over 35 years.

The shop has a long tradition of having family come and help, she said. Hollowick had her children help at the shop, and Soltis said on weekends her kids will come in to help as well. 

There is a history of pets in the store as well. Soltis currently has a husky, Echo, who walks around the store and greets customers. Van Ark and Hollowick brought their dogs to work as well when they owned B/A.

Overall, Soltis says owning a business is "intimidating," even though she has worked in floral since she was 16.

"I'm so glad that I have this shop and this group of people because I couldn't do it with really any other group of people," Soltis said. "Everybody's so supportive and they helped me so much and, I mean, I'm literally learning something new every single day about how to run a flower shop."

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Being so deeply rooted in the community for so many years, the three women all agreed their success was due to the community support.

"One thing I'd like to add is the importance of shopping small," said Van Ark. "So it's just so, so critical that they visit their small businesses and show them their support by doing business with them."

The business has been a long-standing staple to the East Lansing community. When speaking of the importance of the shop, Hollowick said the shop is her "baby" and she created it. She said she will "always care about it because it’s (her)."

"I’m going to take real good care of your baby," said Soltis.

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