THUNDER BAY -- Margaret Phirbny started her own flower shop Bloomers and the Brownhouse after decades of working for another company. Tired of “the corporate stuff,” she decided to go out on her own and searched for the perfect location.
Rather than being in a commercial mall or shopping area, she chose to be in a historical residential neighbourhood in Fort William and found the ideal property at 330 Archibald Street. “It’s a perfect little flower shop,” she says. “We wanted to be more of a neighbourhood shop.”
The old brick house was built in 1903 and has seen many prominent local citizens living in it. “The Parnell family lived here; they were the owners of the original bakery in the city, and the last owner we bought it from was Reverend Brown.”
Situated across the street from McKellar Place Senior Community, the main floor houses the flower and gift shop and is a must-see for anyone who loves old character homes. There are fireplaces in the former dining room and living room and during the winter, one is lit every day, making the shop cozy. Phirbny’s two cats lounging indolently by the fireplace also add a sense of home and calm. The decorated porch and front yard is welcoming, and every summer there are flowers growing in front of the shop.
“I love it, there’s lots of walk-ins,” she says. “It makes the neighbourhood more vibrant; the way it used to be, when there were services right in your neighbourhood.” Bloomers and the Brownhouse sell handmade chocolates from five artisanal makers, including local Chocolate Cow and Sweet Lake of the Woods from Kenora. There are handmade candles, stained glass and jams made on a Mennonite farm in Bancroft. Many of her products are made in Ontario or Canada.
Other than a large cooler full of flowers, she carries various potted plants and tries to locate ones that are unusual. “Our arrangements are a little funkier than the traditional style,” she explains. “I have a very free style, almost a hippy style.”
Instagram helps keep her up to date on trends around the world. “My time at home is not spent sitting and watching TV - I scroll through suppliers and see what’s new and what’s trending; what Europe is doing, what Asia is doing,” she says.
In recent years, greenery is trending, with brides choosing balsam fir for weddings instead of traditional cut flowers. While Phirbny works with many weddings, she says she cherishes her repeat customers the most. “Brides are a one night stand. I like ongoing relationships,” she jokes. “We have a lot of relationships; very strong customers who support us, who like what we do.”
Christmas every year is a big event for the shop - every year Phirbny sets up four fully-decorated Christmas trees and picks a theme. “It’s a labour of love,” she says. Being a florist involves a surprising amount of physical labour, and it’s not an easy job.
“Every day I question what I do. Every day I question my ability to do what I do. And we should - as business owners we should question what we do. It keeps us sharp,” she says. “As long as health holds up, I hope to be doing this for a while!”