By Gordon Dritschilo | Correspondent.
Bonnie Hawley said she wants her customers to know that other than her not being there, they shouldn’t notice much of a change at Hawley’s Florist.
Hawley announced last week that she was preparing to retire and had sold her business to Heather Fernandes of Braintree. She said Fernandes would keep the name and the current employees.
“My exit plan was to get out when I was 65, not 70,” Hawley said. “You know how everybody says they’re going to retire at 65? That doesn’t happen. You realize when you get to this age you have 10 good years to do something else.”
That something else will involve a decent amount of travel. Hawley said her son lives in Alaska, she has a brother in Arizona and other siblings “here and there,” and she has a winter home in Florida.
“I won’t be bored,” she said. “I’m still chairman of the Planning Board in Hampton, New York. I’m sure I’ll get involved in something else.”
Hawley turned wistful when she described a new botanical garden opening near her Florida winter home.
“I don’t see myself sitting around,” she said.
Hawley — who plans to stick around for two months to aid the transition — said she might have gotten out sooner if it hadn’t been for the recession, but that it was also important to her that she found the right person to take over the business.
“I had quite a lot of people who were interested, but they weren’t quite the right fit,” she said. “This is something I built out of nothing and it was — is — important to me it continue. … When you’re in a business that’s an emotional business and you take care of people’s emotional needs, this fills a big role in the community.”
The right person turned out to be a “smart, young and ambitious” 33-year-old program coordinator at Vermont Law School.
“I want to own my own business,” said Fernandes, who found the business listed for sale online and started talking to Hawley back in February. “I’m actually really excited. I think there’s a lot of opportunity for growth in Rutland. I see the city is coming alive again. It’s nice to see and we’re excited to be a part of it.”
Fernandes, whose retail experience includes work in a camera store and clothing store, said she was happy to take over a business with an established brand identity and customer base and doesn’t feel any urge to make it over in her own image.
“It’s not really my style,” she said. “I prefer to look over the bigger objective. I don’t imagine I’ll change much of anything about Hawley’s, especially in the first two or three years. … I don’t imagine changing things and upsetting people would do any good.”
Established in 1977, Hawley’s is one of the oldest businesses downtown.
“My ex-husband was working for Exxon Mobil in New Jersey,” Hawley said. “We are Vermonters and said ‘What are we doing here?’ He didn’t know what he wanted to do with his life. I said I always wanted to own a flower shop. We came here and that’s what we did.”
Hawley said she worked in her first florist shop when she was 16. A rose is still a rose, but the technology used to sell them has changed drastically — the store has gone through three websites since their first one went online in 2000. The market has changed as well, with globalization bringing flowers in from around the world and the boom in destination weddings helping move them back out the door.
“Next weekend we have six weddings,” Hawley said. “I have them booked all the way to next October.”
Hawley said that while she won’t miss getting up in the morning to come to work, she will miss the people she sees there.
“When you’ve built something and done something for a good part of your life, and then it’ll be gone — that’s hard,” she said. “But it’s time, very much time. … It needs a young person who understands young people and what their needs are. I’d rather sit on my back deck, stare at the mountains and shut everything off.”
Gordon Dritschilo is a Rutland Herald staff writer, Rutland Reader cultural correspondent and food enthusiast.