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Votes

They Don't Send Flowers Anymore

Business practices have changed, not the ingredients for success.

It was 1931. The nation was in the worst depression of its short history. There were bread lines and people begging for money everywhere.

It was hardly the time to start a business. Particularly a business that's product was far from being considered a necessity for sustaining life. And, it was even more inconceivable that such a venture would be entered into by a newly married Italian immigrant and his wife in a southern city.

But, that is exactly what Joseph and Mary Teresi did in Alexandria when they began their flower business that included greenhouses requiring land as well as operating capital. Seventy five years and two generations later Alexandria Floral Company decided to end its reign as Alexandria's florist. A local landmark is now a vacant lot.

Nina Teresi, their daughter, known to Alexandrians as Nina Carroll decided it was time to stop and "smell the roses" of the no-stem variety. The time had come to enjoy the holidays and all the other days of the year without the pressure of deadlines. And, her children thoroughly agreed.

Nina has participated in the family business her entire life. She and her sister, who is also in the floral business outside Atlanta, and their parents lived above the flower store and on part of the first floor. "I promised myself my children would do better," she said sitting in her living room on Richards Lane the night before Thanksgiving.

"This is the first holiday I can ever remember not having to be at the shop until well into the night. I loved it and serving my clients, but it is a very demanding business," said Nina Carroll Gilmore who married Alexandria physician Dr. Bruce Gilmore after their individual spouses died.

That promise to herself about her children has also become a reality. Both are lawyers, although they also worked in the family business on a parttime basis at crush times until it closed Oct. 21.

Her daughter Theresa Carroll Buchanan, a graduate of the University of Virginia with a law degree from William and Mary Law School is a U.S. Magistrate Judge at the U.S. District Court in Alexandria.

James Carroll Jr., also graduated from UVA and received his law degree from George Mason Law School. After a stint as a White House legal counsel he now serves as the District of Columbia Counsel for Ford Motor Company.

"There was never an option for us to take over the business when we grew up. Mom said that if she even had a suspicion we wanted to do that she would sell it immediately," said Theresa.

"We basically grew up working very hard every holiday. Usually we came home too tired to really enjoy the festivities," she said.

"We truly were a family business for both us and our customers. Our relationship with many of our family clients stretch from providing flowers when a child was born and to when that same child got married," Jim said. "But, Jim and I probably had the most beautiful flowers in Alexandria at our weddings," Theresa added.

ORIGINALLY THE BUSINESS STARTED on Braddock Road at Mount Vernon Avenue. The City took the original land to expand what is now George Washington Middle School. The greenhouses were where the baseball field is today.

The Teresis family moved their business to 1620 Prince St. in 1942 where it occupied a lot more land stretching to Duke and much farther up Prince Street. Most of the original plot was occupied by rows of greenhouses and open fields, according to Nina.

"Father was a wholesale florist and he needed the space to grow the various flowers," she said. In August 1945 Nina's parents' dream nearly ended in the wake of a violent hail storm that shattered the glass panels of the greenhouses.

"It was the only time I ever saw my father cry. He thought he was going to lose everything. But, he rebuilt," Nina said

"When we moved to the Prince Street location it was not a very nice area. There was nothing historic about it. It was only partially residential. My father hired watchmen to protect the greenhouses at night. The area is now 100 percent better than it was then," she recalled.

Since Nina and her first husband took over the business 40 years ago, it grew into a nationally recognized award winning floral enterprise. In 1993 Alexandria Floral Company was named Florist of the Year by FTD in their Top Shop category. In 1994 they were designated FTD's top personal category.

Ironically, late this past summer they were notified they had been nominated for Best Florist in the annual Washington Post.Com Best Bet Readers' Choice Awards. Overall there were 15 nominations. Alexandria Floral Company won first place in September, just before they closed in October.

In addition to operating the business in partnership with Nina, James Carroll Sr., served two terms on Alexandria City Council in the late 1960s and early 1970s. He was also president of Alexandria Cable Vision.

He died in the Fall of 1984. The floral garden at the intersection of King Street and Commonwealth Avenue is dedicated to James Carroll Sr. in perpetuity.

AS WITH NEARLY EVERY business enterprise, small and large, florists have been going through radical changes in recent years, many of which have made the floral business more impersonal. For the past four decades, Nina, her family, and her staff have continued the tradition of personal attention to every order.

"I refused to fall into the practice of pre-made numbered arrangements and phones answered by machines. When you called us you were greeted by a pleasant, knowledgeable floral consultant, happy to take care of your individual floral needs," Nina stressed.

That was vouched for by all her long time customers. "We have been using Alexandria Floral exclusively for over three decades. We watched it grow. It has been an institution in this city. It's the sort of thing we just expected would be there forever," said City Councilwoman Redella "Del" Pepper.

"Now I have to go out and find a new florist. I'm not sure where to begin. I haven't gone anywhere else for so long," she said.

"I got a plant the day our son was born. I call it Murphy after him. I always took it in for them to transplant and feed. They cared for it from the beginning. Now what?" Pepper asked rhetorically.

Her sentiment was buttressed by Mary Petrino, an interior designer and member of St. Mary's Catholic Church along with Nina and her family. "This is a very sad thing for me personally. Besides being a personal customer, Alexandria Floral always supplied most of the flowers for the church," Petrino said.

"It's going to be very hard to replace Alexandria Floral. I used them continually and it was always a pleasure to work with Nina and her entire staff," she said.

Alexandria Circuit Court Judge John Kloch lived across the street from Nina and Jim Carroll when Theresa and Jim Jr., were children. "We became friends and I always used Alexandria Floral whenever I needed flowers. Now there's just an empty lot there. But, its more than an empty lot, it's left me with a very empty feeling," he said.

"I have loved dealing with Nina and all her staff for the last 20 years. Alexandria Floral has been a long standing, highly respected business with outstanding customer service," said realtor Donnie Wintermute.

"I love flowers. I would rather have flowers than clothes. Tears come to my eyes now when I drive down Prince Street and Alexandria Floral is no longer there," she said.

ALTHOUGH SHE LOVED the floral business, Nina is not shedding any tears. "I'm retired and this is great. I'm very much looking forward to a happy retirement and enjoying this holiday season for starters," she said.

She, Theresa and Jim Jr., all commented on how the business has changed. "There are more holidays now and the emphasis is changing. Valentine's Day has become a really big deal and Secretary's Day is gaining every year," they said.

"I remember one year we had just closed Valentine's Day night and a man came to the door. I said we were closed. And, he said, "But you don't understand. If I don't get flowers I can't go home." So, we got him the flowers and he was able to go home," Nina recalled.

"The Internet has changed the way many people buy flowers. And people's overall buying habits have changed," Jim said.

"But, I still believe for a florist to be truly successful they must be the florist on the corner. Service given to individual customers will remain important and the secret of success," Nina insisted.

"We've had customers bring us a particular vase that had a special meaning to have us fill it year after year on a special occasion," Jim said.

Alexandria Floral was not just a local florist. Nina Carroll and her staff provided flowers for White House occasions, individual president's such as Eisenhower, Ford and others. They provided the floral arrangements when U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist laid in state in the rotunda of the Capitol.

Virtually every church in Alexandria has benefitted from their professional and personal attention as well as the Tomb of the Unknowns. It has been a labor of love — internally and externally.

Now its over. But, Nina was quick to emphasize, "I'm not going anywhere. People have been asking if I was moving to Florida or elsewhere. Why would I do that? I love Alexandria and this is where I'm staying."