Aug. 13, 2007 Bringing color into people's lives comes as naturally as breathing to Vadis Springette.
"We always had flowers on our Sunday table when I was growing up on Tortola," says Springette." My mother had a little garden, and we always had oleander, crotons."
"You have to have an eye for color," she says of the floral business she has been in for the past 15 or so years. "That is key."
Dressed casually in Bermuda shorts and a cotton top, Springette is a tall, handsome woman who loves to talk about her first love, flowers. Her other love, husband Walter Springette, hovers nearby.
Since he retired from his bar, Walter's Living Room, a St. Thomas institution, he has become his wife's right hand, doing most of the deliveries for Springette's Flowers. "Here I thought I'd just retire," he laughs.
Between the two, they encompass more than 60 years of Charlotte Amalie history.
Vadis Springette worked downtown for more than 30 years, mainly at the old C & M Caron gift shop, and later at Beretta Center, now Royal Dane Mall.
One day she got a notion. "I was out at Roses Too in the Sub Base, and I saw that they were selling a bucket full of carnations for $15," she says. "So, I bought a bucket, and I made corsages for $5 each, and I sold all of them to my friends on Main Street." That inspired Springette to persevere, and soon she was selling bouquets as well to her ready-made market of downtown pals.
"I loved doing it," she says. But she also knew how green she was, so to speak.
"I got my hands on all the books about flowers, growing, arranging, selling, anything on horticulture I could find," she says. "When I went to the states, I'd pick up more. I read constantly, always learning.
"Jeff Horrocks, the Government House florist, was a family friend, "she says. "He did the weddings of the most prominent people on the islands. He knew I had a feeling for arranging, and he talked me into decorating a party." She laughs. "It was crooked, but he said it was OK."
Springette also joined the local Orchid Society. "I learned a great deal from that," she says. "It all helps."
Around that time, she set up shop in Walter's Living Room, located at that time on Government Hill. "I had nothing to do with the bar, but I needed a place to work out of, and there was a room downstairs."
And she got the first notch in her belt. "Godfrey deCastro saw what I was doing I forget if he was attorney general then and he hired me for a reception he was hosting," she says. "He said it was so outstanding and flamboyant, he couldn't believe his eyes. So that was my exposure to a lot more people."
Finally, Springette found a location on Back Street. "The former owner wanted to sell, but I didn't know if I could afford it. She had no inventory to speak of, no vases, no ribbons, just a cooler. She said if I sold just $50 a day for five years, I could pay it off. And it worked out."
The cheerful shop is still located in Bakery Square on Back Street.
Her graciousness seems to come naturally, but Springette credits her business sense to Claude Caron. "I really had a great mentor," she says. "He taught me how to take care of customers. I'm a very good salesperson. I always learn a customer's name. The other thing he stressed is the old adage 'the customer is always right.' Never argue with a customer."
Springette is expertly folding a blue satin ribbon for a centerpiece when, glancing out the window, she spies a creation of hers marching down the street. "Sarah," she calls. "Come inside a minute." The attractive young woman prancing down the street in heels, takes time out to run in the shop. At Spingettes's request, she turns her head to show two artfully situated Gerber daisies, one white, one red, gracing her tailored hairdo. "She came in this morning and asked me to do something special for her for a party today," she says.
She gets her flowers from Miami, California and Hawaii . "The Hawaiian flowers birds of paradise, orchids, ginger are terribly expensive; they are sent express mail." She says some flowers will last up to two weeks, depending on their care.
Dealing with such fragile items, she shares some "tricks." "Always keep them in fresh water, change it every other day, feed them plant food, and snip the stems regularly." And one business tip, "The key for me is promptness."
Springette loves a challenge. "I do everything," she says. "Hair combs, boutonnierres, whatever, and over the years when I didn't know what to do I would call Jeff."
The seasons dictate the floral business. "I always have to bring in extra help for the two busiest days, Valentines and Mother's Day. They are crazy times," she says.
"I get a couple hundred orders — I can't take all the customers," Springette says. "Actually, we have to close the door. Some years I order more than 2,500 to 3,000 roses, no kidding. And I am a small shop."
Contact Springette's small shop at 340-774-2011.
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