Kaatscast: the Catskills Podcast
Feb. 1, 2022

Flower Power! Woodstock's Jarita's Florist

Flower Power! Woodstock's Jarita's Florist
Apple Podcasts podcast player badge
Spotify podcast player badge
Google Podcasts podcast player badge
Amazon Music podcast player badge
Castro podcast player badge
RSS Feed podcast player badge

Snowy weather can be a challenge for Valentine's Day rose delivery, but that's nothing new for Woodstock's Jarita's florist, with 45 years of experience delivering fresh, professionally arranged flowers to Catskills residents. On today's Kaatscast, an interview with the owners of Jarita's on decades of flower sales in Woodstock, NY; how the business has changed; and their unique interactions with the community. 

This episode was recorded by Keith Kortright and sponsored by the Central Catskills Chamber of Commerce and Hanford Mills Museum.


--- Support this podcast: https://anchor.fm/kaatscast/support


Valentine's Day is compact. One day, two days maybe, eight is really intense and the potential for snow is always a problem. Snow or no snow, Woodstock's Jarita's Florist has 45 years of experience delivering fresh professionally arranged roses to Catskills Valentine's. On today's Kaatscast, an interview with the owners of Jarita's on decades of flower sales in Woodstock, New York, how the business has changed, and unique interactions with the community. This episode is sponsored by the Central Catskills Chamber of Commerce, providing services to businesses, community organizations and local governments in the central Catskills region. Follow the Central Catskills Chamber of Commerce on Facebook and sign up for a weekly email of local events at centralcatskills.org. And by Hanford Mills Museum in Delaware County's East Meredith. The museum's ice harvest festival is Saturday February 5th, with a community ice harvest on the millpond, ice sculpting by the SUNY Dell high hospitality center ice team, blacksmithing demonstrations and local vendors. Kids twelve and under get in free. Visit hanfordmills.org or call 607-278-5744 for updates on ice conditions and event details. Hanford Mills museum opens for the season May 15th, with guided tours of its water powered sawmill, grist mill, and woodworking shop. If you're wondering who Jarita is, well, it's two people, Jay And Rita. My name is Rita Sands; owner-partner of Jarita's Florist. I'm Jay Sadowitz; the other partner 45 years. I've been in business together with Rita and married for all those years. What's it like working with your spouse for 45 years? It's great, actually. I mean, it's you know, it's not something we plan, but it's just happened, and here we are 45 years later. And Jay mostly works in the downstairs and I mostly work upstairs and we have defined areas of work that we do. So it works out. And if you can figure out how to do it here, we can figure out at home, we can figure out how to do it at home, we can figure out how to do it here. It works back and forth, and issues come up like any other long term relationship. We've got to figure it out. Do you get each other flowers for anniversaries? No. Never. We don't we don't do holidays, we don't have holidays, florists do not have holidays, florists work holidays. It's not just that in our lives to have a holiday, after a holiday, or we just want to go home. Yeah, sometimes we wind up say eating out after Mother's Day or Valentine's Day, and we go to a restaurant and they want to give us a flower, and it's like 'No!' I love flowers. I love providing flowers for people. I love the response that people often have of smiles, or tears, they're all appropriate. They're because flowers are used to express feelings. I couldn't be in a business for 45 years selling clothing. There's a reality of emotions that go with this business. People often come in crying, or laughing, or joyful, and that's what makes it a real experience for me. Because it connects us to the community. It's very much a community business. So it's, you know, all those holidays and events in people's lives, and we're kind of get to be part of that, you know, and, you know, we know a lot what's going on in people's lives, you know, unfortunately, deaths and funerals and you know, all of that, and the symbol of flowers is very much connected to all of those things and we get to engage in that way. We're also very confidential, because this is sensitive material sometimes. People write sensitive notes to other people, and our practices that we never say anything. We'll talk about ourselves, but we never talk about our clients. We know who's seeing who, who's angry at who, and people who said to me, 'You could write a book,' and I said, 'That's not what we do.' And actually that's Woodstockers don't do that. Woodstockers gossip amongst ourselves, but don't do it publicly. We protect each other, and certainly I want to do that here. I have a privacy issue. It's not illegal, but it's moral and ethical to keep confidence. Are you both from this community? No, no. We're both from Brooklyn actually. We both grew up like across the street from each other, but didn't know each other. We met up here. Jay was living up here ready via IBM. Yah, I worked for IBM. That's how I got here. Jay was living here and on a commune, and I was seeing one of the other con commune mates. [unintelligible] Communard. And one thing led to another blah, blah, blah. You know, we broke up with that. Anyway, so we got to go. How did you get into the flower business? There was somebody from Woodstock who had a flower cart in Albany. We go up, so I started working for him. After IBM. I was just, you know, I was out of work. I was just freaking out. I was, you know, this freak, post IBM freak. And so I started working with him and going up to Albany a couple times a week. It was his business, his cart, and he want to move. He moved to Maine or someplace, and we took it over. And so Rita and I did it together, and would will go up to Albany twice a week. It was a schlep driving up there loading all our stuff onto a pickup truck at the time, the cart, and standing on the street corner in Albany. It was windy. Very windy, cold corner; an hour from here. And then, after doing that for a year or two, a space became available in the middle of town, really cheap. Cheap rent. It was another space over here, and we knew who they were laughing there. And there was an empty space. So we walked in, and we went, 'Oh, let's open a flower shop.' It was kind of literally like that. You know? And you could do that in 1977. We opened on 7/7/77. You can't do that now. You can't just. Well we didn't, we didn't need a lot of money. Right, exactly. That's what I mean, you can't do that now. You can't take the money that you had in your pocket and start something. You need, especially in talent with high rents like this any any place, you need to have deeper pockets, banks, we were able to do this what we have in our pockets. Pretty much. You know, we had friends who helped us out building things and there was a community spirit like that, you know, amongst friends. It's hard to do that now on your own; probably nearly impossible. So we started slow and small and grew. But this is the same space. We grew slowly, and here we are. Now we're selling flowers to the grandchildren of people who are our first customers. Yeah. It's true. It's nice. So 1977 I assume that the business of selling flowers has changed and culturally too. You know, there was a time I think when everybody sent flowers to a funeral now they say in lieu of flowers. Yes, that's been an issue. Yeah. In the floral industry for a long time. Yes. The mainstay of floral business were funerals forever. That's changed, certainly changed, for COVID, because there were no funerals. There were a lot more deaths. But there were no funerals because they weren't allowed, you know, there was no gathering. And yes, 'in lieu of's are a problem for the industry. It's out of our hands. I mean, that's just that's just a phenomenon that's going on. The whole industry evolved as every other industry. I mean, because when we started, there were no supermarket flowers, you know, so there's supermarket flowers, and you can get flowers anywhere now, and plants, and and where you couldn't back then you know, you'd have to come to a flower shop, you know. So what we do now is more professional design. We do still have walk-in people like us people like our flowers were here. But a lot of our businesses design, we do a lot of weddings, you know. So that's something you don't get at a supermarket. Say plants, you could buy a plant at a supermarket or at a marketplace. Or Lowes. But they don't look like this. They're not displayed like this. They don't have florists quality containers. They're not gift worthy. They're a lot less florists in the country than there were when we started. Oh, yeah. And it's also changed in how, before the internet, everything was like FTD and Teleflora in terms of like sending something across the country. But if you have a website, you don't need that. Although we still don't [unintelligible]. Although we still are because we've been in in Teleflora for a long time, you know, so you have to stay on trend. And one of the great things about the flower industry, there's always new flowers. You know, it's like a joy to get these big boxes and we open them up and they're like, 'Oh, look at this. Look at them.' You know, how beautiful. Yeah, we're lucky that we have a supplier who delivers to us a couple of times a week, because we've tried years ago going in New York to the market. That was awful. Too far. Too far for us. So sometimes we'll go to our local market supplier. But generally we can do this on a phone, and they deliver here, and that saves a lot of energy. Where did the flowers come from? Mostly South America, Holland. Literally around the world. New Zealand. We get stuff from New Zealand, Asia, South Asia, Israel, Africa. In the summer when we can we get local, large local growers of summer flowers in Pennsylvania. New York has almost no large commercial businesses growers left. New York used to be a major producer of roses. There are no domestic growth. They used to do it in greenhouses. They used to be a lot of growing in Rhinebeck; anatomies and violets. That was a long time ago. Camellias. When we first started in business, our main rose supplier was in Berlin, New York. As the price of fuel increased over the years, it became much cheaper for the industry to grow flowers in South America and ship them, fly them to Miami, then truck them up to here. All our roses these days come from Ecuador; high elevation, they shade them from the sun, but the temperature is consistent because it's a higher elevation. So you don't have to heat and heating is expensive. There's got to be an environmental impact. Have you found ways to ameliorate that in any way on a local level? Well, we buy local, if we can. We buy local, if we can. We try to use products that are sometimes we use recycled glass, we started using bamboo cardholders, instead of plastic. It is aesthetically more pleasing also. There's something called Oasis, which is a holding meeting for flowers, and we use that as little as possible these days. You know, we try to put as much as possible in glass instead of Oasis, other impacts fair trade. A lot of the growers are doing that in South America where they weren't, you know, 10-15 years ago, but there's more of that in the industry. Now, traditionally, no one in the Catskills delivers anything. I can't get a pizza delivered. I can't get Chinese food delivered. If there is even Chinese food. But you've been delivering from day one, right? Is that been an important part of the business? Yes. Yes, that's a mainstay of a professional florist shop is delivering, you know, the, and that's what distinguishes us in a lot of ways from any other business. Somebody can call in the morning, order flowers, we make it, we design it, we manufacture it, put it together, and get it to somebody's house within two to five hours, say. Probably the most complicated part of the business is organizing routes. If you're in New York City in delivering you probably get five deliveries on one block. Here, it's much more difficult to figure out, especially on holidays, when we'll have a lot a lot of deliveries, we have to figure out routes. That makes sense. And there are programs that do that, but we're really good at it. We're probably much better than programs. We can look at a stack of orders and figure out the proper route. Particularly at the end of the holiday Rita and I we, you know, give each other a high five and congratulate each other and say, 'Nice job.' Another one down. Yeah, nice job. Valentine's Day and Mother's Day in particular are very, very intense. So let's talk a little bit about holidays. What were some of the other big events that you were selling flowers a lot in the 70s or 80s that you're not selling anymore? Oh, Easter. Easter is gone. Easter was one of the big five; Thanksgiving, Christmas, Valentine's Day, Easter and Mother's Day are the big five, and Thanksgiving is it was okay. It's busy. It's it's containable. Christmas is spread out over a longer period of time so we can breathe a little bit easier. Valentine's Day is compact. One day, two days, maybe eight is really intense, and the potential for snow is always a problem. I mean, that's the scary part of Valentine's Day. A major snowstorm; you're really screwed. [unintelligible] I remember one Valentine's Day we had like 22 inches of snow the night before. I came in and I had to shovel a path to get into the store. I mean, it was up into the doorway, and we wound up delivering that day. How do you plan for Valentine's Day? Based on previous years, and the day of the week. Valentine's Day on the Sunday is the worst day it could be for a business. It is the slowest. Yeah. Except 2021 was Sunday; but because we were sort of coming out of the depths of COVID, it was a great holiday for us, even though it was Sunday. So we look at previous years, we look at what's trending and what day of the week it is. If it's Wednesday, we know that we're going to be the best Wednesday-Thursday, and the reason for that is people all go out to dinner or brunch in the middle of the week. Then we get to Easter, which used to be a major holiday. Every woman who went to church would wear corsage. People would decorate their houses, send flowers, plants. It's changed. And that's the supermarket stuff, because everybody. Right. And even if it's if you're somebody that doesn't sell flowers, normally, places get flowers and plants at Easter in their business. So people also not celebrating the same way, not having Easter dinners as much with their families. And people go to church differently and much more relaxed, don't dress up. And so everybody's putting on their Easter finery and putting on a corsage. We're not unhappy about less corsages. Yeah, corsage work is not good; nobody likes to do it. Yeah, it's it's, it's a little time consuming. How do you keep everything fresh and ready to go? How do you manage your inventory? Sell it. We sell it. We move it out quickly. We know we're pretty good at figuring out how much to order. We can get flowers a few times a week from a couple sources. What you see in the shop is pretty much what we have. If someone receives flowers, what's the best way to keep them looking fresh the longest amount of time?  Cool, out of the sun, away from heat. We put preservative in every arrangement before it goes out. And we provide a packet when it goes to the house and we tell people to you know follow directions dissolve that water and add that water to the arrangement. It's a combination of antibacterial agents to keep the bacteria from forming in the water and sugars to keep for growth because bacteria forms in the water will clog the stems and stop the stems from taking up water. Take the flowers out, pour the water out, freshen it with the preservative, you know, even after a few days right. If you can't add, make sure there's water in there. I thought we played a little game. This is going to be a rapid fire matching game. Okay. So I'm gonna list the occasion and you list the the top flowers that are gonna go into that arrangement. Mother's Day. Roses, peonies, roses peonies, Stock, Lizzie amphis. Hydrangea. Hydrangea; we use a lot of hydrangea. Bride's bouquet. Roses. Dollies. Dollies in the fall. Peonies. Peonies in the spring. Garden roses. Groom's corsage matches. Generally. A well spray rose something small. Something from the bouquet to match. But but smaller. Funeral. Gladiolus, lilies, snapdragons, mums bigger. Usually it is at a distance. So it needs to be seen and they have to be generally a lighter color. Funeral homes are often somewhat dark. Congratulations. Sunflower. Happy flowers. Sunflowers, Gerberas, happy face flowers. Yeah. And obvious but. Roses. Valentine's Day. Roses are a mainstay and and it for good reason. They're beautiful. They come in dozens of colors. They're breeding new varieties all the time. They last. they last these days. Roses from South America. And Holland. Holland roses. And Holland. Yeah. Holland's the other main grower in the in the world, the Dutch people grow amazing flowers. On a more local level, what's it like having a business in Woodstock? What are your feelings for this community? Oh, this is my home. I love it. Where else would I go? Well, nowhere else. I live in paradise. Woodstock's a tourist town, but our customers are mostly local, and so I know most customers by either by name, by face, by reputation, and they know me and Rita. And so it makes for feeling part of the community and a deep part of community. We're one of the few businesses that have still the original owner from that time, you know, from the 70s or 80s, and and it's kind of enjoyable to meet the new people. I'm just glad that I can still be part of all the new stuff that's going on. One of the things I've been missing for a long time and Woodstock has been declining is the number of children. The schools were closing and I think this is changing in the other direction now. That's a relief, because a community that doesn't have children has an end in sight, and to see, you know, more children is a really positive thing. When I hear people complaining about new people, I have to remind them and myself that we love new people and then every every existing community has that goes through that, you know, like, we want to bring, you know, we want to lift a drawbridge after us, and nobody else should come, and having to remember that, that's what. That's life. It's life. You know, when we were young, there was, you know, a whole crew of older, elder Woodstockers that we knew. Now we're them. Thank you, Jay and Rita, and we wish you a busy snow free Valentine's Day. Audio Recording by Keith Kortright. Kaatscast is a production of Silver Hollow Audio. Please be sure to subscribe wherever podcasts are found for free and automatic delivery every two weeks. Thanks again to our local sponsors and to you our listeners for your contributions to the show. If you'd like to contribute, just click Support at kaatscast.com. Until next time, I'm Brett Berry. Thanks for listening, and we'll see you again in two weeks. 

Transcribed by https://otter.ai / JL