Flower Stands in S.B. on the Wane
Sharon Hearne was born to work with flowers. When asked to draw a picture of herself as a young schoolgirl, she drew a flower. Moving to Santa Barbara from Fresno about 20 years ago, Hearne wasted no time heeding her calling. After a short while as an understudy, she and her husband Bob jumped at the opportunity to buy a flower stand. Still in the same location outside the Montecito Vons after 16 years, Magic Flowers has maintained the gold standard of local flower purveyors.
In this time of change, longevity in the flower business has become an anomaly. The challenges facing the Hearnes have mounted over the years in the form of competition. Montecito’s Friday Farmers Market began about 10 years ago and has seriously cut into what used to be the busiest day for Magic Flowers. Trader Joe’s, Costco, and other grocery stores have also been able to lure customers with low prices and convenience. Despite the difficulties, they’ve still managed to “survive and thrive.”
Magic Flowers prides itself on a level of quality unequaled by the mass marketers. Customers can always count on the freshest local roses rather than South American generics. Maintaining a Montecito landmark requires a commitment to excellence which the couple takes to heart. Their regular clientele is comforted to know they can depend on Magic Flowers for a random Tuesday pick-me-up or a special holiday treat. Even local celebs like Julia Louis-Dreyfus and Rob Lowe have been known to drop by on occasion.
Mike Chavez, a flower wholesaler and delivery man, has also been witness to much change since the early ’90s. He fondly recalls the glory days of Santa Barbara’s flower industry: “It used to have a European feel. There could be a flower stand on practically every corner. They were able to coexist, each with their own identity.” Now he says, “We’re witnessing something die, like the dinosaurs.”
Chavez started noticing major changes at the turn of the century when the big stores began to focus attention on their floral departments. His business went hand-in-hand with the stands because they were prone to impulse buying. Someone could come and clean them out, they’d call trusty Mike and he’d be back in a jiffy to restock their inventory.
The changes in the industry have snowballed all the way down the line. He explains, “There used to be four or five rose growers in Carpinteria. Now there are only two nurseries and they’re owned by the same family. The South American roses have taken over.” Many of those growers were forced to diversify, switching to produce or alternate varietals. The troubles meeting government standards and obeying restrictions, combined with the soaring price of land has proved insurmountable for some. Despite the adversity, Chavez remains confident in the “little guys.” He believes, “There’s a certain romanticism in buying flowers that will always be connected with the stands and the shops.”
Today there are only a few permanent flower stands remaining in our area: Riley’s (which had as many as 15 locations at their peak) on Calle Real in Goleta; Magic Flowers in Montecito; and Jerry’s on Upper State. It seems risky to try to enter such a tight market but people like Hillary Dulien aren’t ready to throw in the towel. A prominent figure in Santa Barbara’s flower scene for many years, Dulien honed her dazzling arrangement skills working at Riley’s all over town and doing special events. Last month she tested the waters with her stand, Flowers on the Vine, on Hollister near Modoc. Not even a month passed before she realized the location just wasn’t going to cut it. Dulien (also an eclectic jewelry designer) reflects on the state of the local flower biz: “Having all those stands gave our town a friendlier vibe back in the pre-Costco days. I like the Farmers Market, of course, but that’s also where a lot of business went. The restaurants used to come to the stands to get their flowers, but not anymore.” Nevertheless, her love for sharing the joy of flowers and faith in the community keeps her optimism flowing. After a booming Easter weekend running the stand from in front of her Red Rose Way home, she has decided to make that a more regular gig. The good weather is back and the time is ripe for a flower stand revival.
4·1·1 •Magic Flowers, 1040 Coast Village Road, Montecito •Riley’s, 5875 Calle Real, Goleta • Jerry’s, 3430 State St. by 7-Eleven • Flowers on the Vine, 2135 Red Rose Way on the Mesa