Pots of poinsettias — the traditional solid red and white ones, as well as the newer variety known as candy cane for their mixed red and white coloring — were scattered across the floor and glitter roses for dancers in the Nutcracker ballet were selling almost as fast as Rachel Woolard could make them.
It was the busy Christmas season at Alaska Flower Mill and holiday arrangements in all shapes and sizes were headed out the door, but Woolard’s thoughts were already shifting toward Valentine’s Day.
That single day when people are prone to express their affection for one another with flowers, candy and jewelry is the Super Bowl of events for florists — the busiest day of their year.
Woolard was wondering how that day would play out in Homer — a time when lots of local businesses are experiencing the winter doldrums — and what people would want to order.
Her signature glitter roses were a big hit during the Christmas season, so she knew that would be part of what she would offer for Valentine’s Day. She also was committed to have something to fit all budgets — but that’s part of her business philosophy no matter what day it is.
“If someone comes in with $5 or $500, it doesn’t matter, everyone is treated with the same friendly respect, and everyone leaves with something they can be happy and proud of,” she says.
To help keep what many may consider a luxury item more affordable, Woolard also offers free delivery in downtown Homer, as well as “the most reasonable delivery prices” to the Spit, Anchor Point and out East End Road.
Woolard wants as many people as possible to enjoy the pleasure of fresh flowers — their scents, their colors, their ability to brighten a gray day.
She is not a cookie-cutter florist. Her preference is custom orders over a cooler full of arrangements that all look the same. She likes trying new things, including using the unexpected — try kale — in her arrangements. While she has been working with flowers since 1997 and enjoys putting into practice the color theory she learned in art school, she believes it is her ability to listen to what customers tell her they want and her willingness to work with anyone’s budget that sets her apart from most other florists.
“I listen and I ask questions. … I like to make people’s day. There’s more to being a florist than putting flowers in a vase,” she says.
For Woolard, opening Alaska Flower Mill in October was a dream come true much earlier than planned. It was put on the fast track when her husband, Don, was laid off from his job on the North Slope in July. The couple didn’t know when or if he would be going back to work in the oil patch, so they got busy opening the flower shop — finding space in the old Trailside Building, next to the Pho and Thai restaurant on the Sterling Highway.
Don did the remodeling — building the cooler and turning Rachel’s vision for the business space — she wanted it to be “silo- and barn-like” to fit the play on words, flower, instead of flour, mill — into reality. Homer artist Dan Coe followed suit with the design of the shop’s logo and signage.While Don has since returned to work on the North Slope, Rachel wants everyone to know how important he is to the success of Alaska Flower Mill.
“Don is amazing. … He is my rock, my support. He lets me shine, because he is more introverted than I am but he is the one holding the spotlights. He is generous with his words and his time. I am a very lucky woman,” she says.
When Alaska Flower Mill hosted the January Homer Chamber of Commerce mixer, Rachel gave some insight into both her personality and her busy life when this icebreaker question was asked of all those attending: If you were a flower, what would you be?
“A ‘mum,’” answered Woolard, “because I’m a ‘mum’ of three boys, Owen, 5, Noah, 3, and Gunnar, 1. Mums are very hardy flowers. They have staying power.”
The boys often are with their mother at the flower shop, as are the family’s two dogs, Prudhoe and Tippy.
The family moved to Homer in the summer of 2015. It was a homecoming of sorts for Rachel, who had lived here as a child, but spent most of her growing up years in Ketchikan. What attracted the family to Homer were the schools, she says.
“I spent months researching schools. Homer is by far the best and offers the most opportunity. I wanted more athletic opportunities for our boys — swimming and soccer were very appealing. I also am an avid gardener and loved the growing zone 6 vs. zone 2 in Copper Center (where the family had lived previously), and two to three months longer of a growing season. We love growing our own food,” says Woolard, who makes it clear she loves this hectic season of her young family’s life.
She also is excited to see how her passions for family, community and beautiful flowers all come together in Alaska Flower Mill.
“You only get back what you give. I want to give back to this community where my kids are growing up,” she says.