Bonnie Arbittier / Rivard Report
Seduced by the delicate blooms and romantic decor of the newest shop at the Pearl, visitors could easily miss that this business is a true labor of love.
Open since November, The Vintage Bouquet Bar grew out of the weekend farmer’s market there, and from a dream that owner Ashley Mauricio-Flores brought to life with the help of her husband, Roger Flores, and 8-year-old daughter Emma.
The floral shop, located in space formerly occupied by Melissa Guerra, sells custom, market-style bouquets and arrangements, with a seasonal mix curated by Emma daily, plus succulent plantings, jewelry, and other gifts.
Mauricio-Flores also teaches flower-arranging classes, using flowers she grows herself in the space that she designed and built herself.
“We love the market. They're family. But I always wanted a flower shop,” she said. “I wanted to be able to work with not only the flowers that I grew, but others because, essentially, we can't grow everything at our farm. But I wanted to be able to expand, and honestly the only place I saw our flower shop working is here at the Pearl.”
The opportunity arose in August, and the Pearl gave her six weeks to set up shop and open. To finance the shop, the couple sold a rental property it owned. They did most of the build-out work themselves and turned the large space into a unique flower shop.
The seed for the store was planted several years ago, Mauricio-Flores said, when the young family bought an oversized lot in Converse and began life in the suburbs.
“Then I wanted chickens in the backyard and [my husband] thought I was crazy,” she said. With permission from the City, she got her hens, then farm-fresh eggs. “And then I was like, ‘What else can I do?’ and decided I wanted a goat to make goat cheese.”
That’s when they knew it was time to look for land. In 2007, they found an idyllic 23-acre farm along Cibolo Creek in Sutherland Springs. The couple put everything they had into buying the undeveloped land, along with a herd of Dexter cattle, and started building a home themselves.
“That's how it always has been. We're not your typical couple,” Mauricio-Flores said. “We don't know how to sit still. We enjoy having work, we enjoy having things to do, and we enjoy being able to do things together. Any venture we've ever done, we've tackled it together. Same thing with the flowers.”
At first, Roger, who works as a firefighter, wasn't keen on the idea of growing flowers commercially, she said. “He didn't know if people would even be interested in buying them.”
Then he saw how happy it made her – and others. “It’s infectious to see the feeling that you give to people,” Mauricio-Flores said. “It doesn’t matter who you are, flowers can evoke emotions in people that they don’t even realize they have.”
The amateur farmers began with easy-to-grow zinnias and cosmos, learning from scratch. After some trial and error, they planted anemones, poppies, ranunculus, and sunflowers. Mauricio-Flores has grown dahlias when others told her it couldn’t be done in the local climate and soil. And the couple added 30 David Austin rose bushes last February.
“Honestly, if I could have that whole place covered in roses, I would,” Mauricio-Flores said. “I love roses.”
But because roses don’t bloom until closer to March, don’t look for hers in the store this Valentine’s Day.
For what’s become the second-largest holiday next to Mother’s Day for the floral industry, the majority of roses in stores now are grown in South America, shipped to the United States, and sold through wholesalers.
“That is requiring so many days that these flowers have to be cut before they're even really mature,” Mauricio-Flores said. “It really changes the longevity of the flowers. Because of that, flower growers have really focused on the varieties that they can breed to be as long-lasting as possible. If you notice, a lot of the supermarket flowers don't have scents anymore. That's because it's been bred out.”
Still, sweethearts will line up to spend an estimated $1.9 billion this year on flowers as expressions of their love and devotion, according to a survey by the National Retail Federation.
“Everybody thinks of roses,” said Mauricio-Flores, and she will have some in stock through local wholesalers. “We try to focus on in our seasonal mixes with more things that are in season, like ranunculus. Those are equally as beautiful as roses, and they are just as unique, but also in season. We want people to know that every flower has its own beauty, and it has its own season.”
It varies from season to season, month to month, the amount of homegrown flowers Mauricio-Flores scan stock in the store. So in addition to the blooms she grows herself, flowers sourced for The Vintage Bouquet Bar also come from local wholesalers and other mom-and-pop flower farms in the state, such as the Arnosky Family Farm. She credits Jerry King from the European-style flower market, San Antonio Flower Company, for helping her learn the business.
“Right now, this is probably one of the most dormant [growing] seasons that we have. But spring is coming,” she said. “The majority of the product that we get comes from California [which is] like magic growing land for flowers. They have access to so much, which may change in the future with them allowing marijuana to be legal. That may change how much American-grown flowers are actually grown here in America.”
The Vintage Bouquet Bar takes orders for weddings and events, provides flowers for its neighbor business, Bakery Lorraine, and has recently begun a service delivering regular arrangements to residents at the Cellars at Pearl.
As the weather warms, Vintage Bouquet Bar also will return to the Pearl Farmer’s Market, selling only blooms from the farm.
“But for the future, my goal is to be able to get back to farming with my husband,” Mauricio-Flores said. “That really is our joy. That's our happy place.”
She admits to having a “gambling soul,” willing to grow a beautiful crop even at the risk of losing it all to a hurricane or hail storm. Like the symbolism in a single rose, motivation comes from the flowers themselves.
“I think that sometimes we as humans can tend to get inundated with our own ... turmoil in our own day-to-day lives, and sometimes it just feels like we just can't take much more,” Mauricio-Flores said. “But that flower just kept going, just kept moving on, and it took what it had, what it was given, and it tried to make the best of it. I think that sometimes we just need to do that.”