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Virginia Florist Marks Half Century

Long time customers and newly initiated show up to celebrate.

Eisenhower wins his second term for President. Khrushchev tightens his control at the Kremlin by ousting Molotov and Malenkov.

Eisenhower sends troops to Little Rock, Ark., to enforce school integration. Soviets launch history's first and second space satellites — the latter carrying a dog.

Jimmy Hoffa takes over leadership of the Teamsters Union from retiring Dave Beck. Young Queen Elizabeth makes her first visit to the Jamestown Settlement. It all happened in 1957.

That was also the year Virginia Olson opened The Virginia Florist in the second to last east location of the small strip shopping center along Belle View Boulevard. That event was marked by a 50th Anniversary Celebration this past Saturday that drew close to 500 customers.

Kevin Green bought the floral shop from Virginia Olson's daughter in 2000. As one of the oldest established businesses in the revitalized shopping center, it is now located at 1632 Belle View Boulevard and sells not only flowers but also a wide array of gifts and unusual antique items.

"When we bought the business, on Valentine's Day of 2000, Safeway was expanding and wanted the space we were in at the other end of the shopping center. So we moved here and now have nearly twice the space," said Green. "But, the shop has been located in this shopping center. And, its name comes from its original owner, Virginia Olson, as well as where it is located."

Green has added a variety of gift items to his floral offerings. These include an eclectic array of collector items such as a print of an early map detailing three routes from the District of Columbia to Mount Vernon Estate, posters from 1960s rock concerts, framed political campaign buttons, and antique toys that can serve as conversation piece planters. These are complemented by home decorating items from fountains to exquisite vases.

"But, 70 percent of our revenue still comes from flower sales. When I bought the business, the gross annual income was approximately $150,000. In 2006 we grossed $1.3 million," he said.

And, that was with the first four years being particularly challenging. As with any new venture or ownership change, the first year had its startup demands. Year two brought 9-11 and its accompanying economic woes. That was followed by the pall placed over the area by the "Sniper" incidents. And year four brought Hurricane Isabel.

"After 9-11 everything just went flat. Then the sniper fears hit right as the Christmas season was getting underway. Then the flood from the hurricane nearly wiped out the shopping center. We lost $50,000 on that," Green said.

And the Small Business Administration was of little or no help. "Their loan rate for disaster relief was six and a half percent. I went to Burke and Herbert Bank and got a much better rate than the government was offering," he said.

IN ADDITION to providing customers with refreshments, gifts and prizes throughout the day last Saturday, the shop was packed with "special sale" items with up to 50 percent off. There was definitely a celebration atmosphere with a cart full of roses selling for $10 a bunch on the outdoor walkway, planters filled with various arrangements, and even an antique toy riding car that one customer purchased for a planter in his Stratford Landing home's yard.

At a 1 p.m. prize drawing, Villamay resident Mary Janet Renaud was the lucky winner of the mounted head of a "Jack-A-Lope" complete with hunting instructions. "I've been coming here for years and years. I love this shop," she said.

"I think I'm going to give this to my eight year old grandson. He'll think its great. But, I also have another 13 year old grandson. They'll probably fight over it," Renaud said as she accepted her rather weird "prize" from Martha Washington, aka Mary Wiseman, who was at the shop on a break from her duties at Mount Vernon Estate.

When Wiseman came to Mount Vernon several years ago to portray Martha Washington, after spending 30 years as a historical interpreter at Colonial Williamsburg, she moved into Belle Haven, just across Belle View Boulevard from the shopping center. "I've been coming to this shop since I moved here from Williamsburg," she said.

"This shop and this shopping center is typical of the way things used to be before the mega malls. In fact, when I first visited here and came into this center I knew I could definitely live up here. It's particularly nice that younger people get to know this type of shop and this center," Wiseman said.

The Virginia Florist employs 26 people. But, of that total only three or four are fulltime, according to Green. "Many of them work either part time year round or only during peak periods such as the various holidays," he explained.

The most popular items last Saturday were the framed political buttons, the collector D.C./Mount Vernon road maps, and the "state pillows," according to Green's daughter Catlin. "The state pillows with the names of towns and cities in a particular state seem to be a real hot item," she said.

One of the ongoing crowd pleasers at The Virginia Florist is it main window decoration which is constantly changing. At Christmas Green features a holiday scene which includes an electric train. At other times it may be built around an antique typewriter and desk, local historical items, classic rock music items, or any other theme that catches his fancy.

It now has his teenage drum set, painted white with the shop's logo and the face of the bass drum. Behind the drum set are large, multi-color psychedelic hangings of 60s rock bands. The Virginia Florist has something for every different drummer.