The family business couldn’t go to just anybody.
So when Kim O’Callaghan, whose business Morrice Florist has been a fixture on State Road in Vineyard Haven for nearly 75 years, woke up on New Year’s Day and decided it was time for a fresh start, she immediately thought of Emily Coulter, the daughter of her longtime running partner Bill Brown. Mr. Brown and Ms. O’Callaghan have run over 50 marathons together, and during their thousands of miles of training Ms. O’Callaghan had gotten to know Mr. Brown’s children by proxy. Emily, a graduate of Newbury College with a degree in interior design, has been an Island wedding planner for 10 years. She seemed a natural fit for the florist job, Ms. O’Callaghan said in a recent interview.
If Emily wants it, Ms. O’Callaghan told Mr. Brown, let’s make it work.
On April Fool’s Day last week, Mrs. Coulter, 31, of Vineyard Haven had just arrived for her first day as owner-in-training. It was Tulip Tuesday, and customers were showing up early to pick up their flowers even as new deliveries awaited preparation for sales and arrangements.
Mrs. Coulter set to work at the counter station in the back room.
“I sliced my thumb!” she recalled on Saturday, laughing. “I came in on the busiest day — all the flowers come in and they’re stacked in boxes up to here. You have to cut all the stems off, and everyone’s just [she demonstrated a practiced cutting motion] with the knives, and I sliced my thumb on the first one.”
As good-natured and easygoing as Morrice Florist’s outgoing owner, Kim O’Callaghan, Mrs. Coulter shrugged off the mishap, wrapped her thumb in duct tape and returned to the flowers. Business as usual.
The florist shop has been a familiar presence on State Road in Vineyard Haven for nearly three quarters of a century. James F. Morrice, Ms. O’Callaghan’s grandfather, opened the doors of Morrice Florist in â¨March of 1940, one year after earning his degree from the University of Massachusetts at Stockbridge agriculture school. In 1946 he expanded the business to its current size. The original greenhouse was folded into the main building and a new greenhouse was built out back. For six years, the shop itself was located on Main street, where it opened in 1952 with a flower show attended by more than 1,000 people (the greenhouse remained on State Road).
“Of the floral display, the Easter lilies held the most prominent position and were displayed in greatest profusion. Like the majority of the potted plants, they were the products of the Morrice greenhouse and were excellent plants,” the Gazette reported at the time.
In 1969, Mr. Morrice and wife Phyllis sold the business, but they returned in 1976. Ms. O’Callaghan’s mother Janet took over the shop in 1984. Ms. O’Callaghan came on board in 1986.
“I started working with my grandfather when I was 12,” she said. “I went off to college and then when I graduated from college I couldn’t find a job so I started working here. And then, life.”
After 28 years in the flower shop, she is ready to move on, ready to spend more time with her youngest son Hunter (the two are heading west this summer on a cross-country road trip). Ms. O’Callaghan still owns the building that houses the florist shop. She said she is not sure what path she will take next, but it may involve using her master’s degree in education.
“I can’t wait,” she said. And she knows the business is in good hands.
“I think Emily has all the qualities you can’t teach someone,” she said, noting Mrs. Coulter’s artistic eye.
Mrs. Coulter didn’t hesitate when she got the call.
“Yes, definitely,” she said. “This just seems like the perfect next step for me.” She had her last shift at Alchemy, where she has worked for six years in addition to her wedding planning job, on Saturday and is now a full-time florist. On Monday, she and sister Jes Brown made their first trip off-Island to pick out plants for Easter season.
“I’m here for three months to transition her over, and there we have it,” Ms. O’Callaghan said.
Mrs. Coulter said she plans to increase the focus on wedding flowers and fill the outside arbor with “everything you can do for potted arrangements. Tulip Tuesdays will continue, she said, and she hopes to work more with local florists.
And Morrice Florist will remain a family business, even if a different family is behind the counter. The Coulter and Brown families have volunteered to help with deliveries, mother in law Holly joined the staff, and daughters Madeleine, four, and Eloise, two, have already stopped by for visits.
“The girls will be starting at the Tisbury School soon; I imagine them walking down the hill and coming to hang out in the shop,” Mrs. Coulter said. “It’s a whole dream situation.”
Jes, a landscape architect, will be planting a cutting garden out back, reviving the greenhouse James Morrice originally built.
“It’s almost like it’s coming full circle,” Ms. O’Callaghan said.