This is an installment of Shop Talk, an occasional series of interviews with business owners in Alaska, typically focusing on the state economy and how it is affecting them.
Dallas Wildeve didn't have a background as a florist when she decided to open up floral studio Bloomsbury Blooms in Anchorage in 2012. She studied art in college, but gardening and plants had always been a part of her life. So she decided to jump into the industry, and learned along the way the challenges of sourcing flowers in Alaska.
At Bloomsbury Blooms' small shop downtown on Fourth Avenue one recent morning, Wildeve arranged foraged birch branches and spruce along with California roses, poppies and other flowers at a table in the back of the studio for a customer order.
One goal at Bloomsbury is to use a foraged item — mostly from the shop's Sutton farm, called Bloomsbury Gardens at Eska Ridge — in all arrangements. The studio also focuses on locally made pottery for the vases.
Wildeve talked to the Anchorage Daily News about her business.
How did it go in the beginning with this business, with something you were unfamiliar with?
I had no background in how you source flowers in Alaska, which is really complicated. I had to learn about shipping and what things ship well and what things don't. What things I could grow here, seasonality of flowers, what's available when, is a lot to learn.
How do you source flowers in Alaska?
It varies on the time of year. I always do a little bit of foraging, no matter if it's summer or not. And then in the winter I predominantly order from a company called Florabundance in California. … And then I also order through Cedars (Wholesale Floral Imports) which is just like a flower warehouse here. That's in the wintertime. And in the summertime, we have a flower farm and grow flowers, it's it Sutton. And then I buy from other flower farmers, too, and I do a lot of foraging in the summer.
Tell me a bit about how the economy (recession) in Alaska is affecting you.
We're pretty small. We're not like a fast, get 100 things out of here. … The thing that's the most unpredictable I feel like, the daily, 'they're going to order it today or they ordered it yesterday,' that's actually not a huge part of my business. Weddings and stuff that's planned further ahead is, and workshops and things you can kind of gauge a little bit better. …
I have 75 weddings this year. … Out of the 75, like more than half don't live in Alaska. They're mostly like elopements, destination weddings. …
I feel like, just from my gut, that people tend to be ordering smaller things now. … And then with the weddings, I have noticed I have less of like the really big ones.
Can you tell me what the challenges have been as years have gone by?
Lots. So, there wasn't any kind of school or person I wanted to study with here. So I picked florists I admired that I thought had style that I liked and I went and did workshops out of state. … But a lot of the challenges were just not necessarily the aesthetic part. So many flowers have different ways to process them and like I was saying, figuring out the shipping part, all those aspects.
I'm curious about what you've learned about running a business since you started this place.
At first, I delivered all over Anchorage and then I figured out that that — for the size of shop that I wanted to remain, and how I wanted to actually take time arranging flowers and I didn't want to be big and have a ton of employees — wasn't going to work for me. So I guess I sort of decided to remain smaller. I decided I didn't want to be making a million things really fast and managing a bunch of people.
And in exchange for that the cost has to go up?
I was trying to explain that to a customer that was in here the other day … the best way to explain it is quality, not quantity.
How you've had to adapt right now to the economic downturn?
I think things that help — I'm learning these things now but I think they'll help more especially if the economy gets worse, I hate to say that out loud, but — doing workshops, we do like a farm-to-table dinner. Just doing different things. …
Part of what I've learned too is, not to offer a whole bunch of different things. We just offer a few things instead. It's kind of like how a restaurant menu works, right? You don't want to have like a hundred ingredients that might go bad.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity and brevity.