Community Champ II

The flower queen of kindness: COMMUNITY CHAMPION COLUMN

PAULA TERRY-LANCASTER
SPECIAL TO THE EXAMINER

Many long-time Barrie residents remember our city as a kinder, gentler place 20 years ago, before subdivisions began to sprawl on its perimeters, when everyone knew their neighbours, and doing business was an entirely more personal experience, likely involving someone whose family you knew.

That’s the ethos that Carrie Wallisch, 44, tries to bring to her small, independent florist’s shop, City Florist, located in the Barriegate Centre in Allandale, in the small plaza informally known as the Wickie’s Mall.

Carrie was born in Orillia and has lived in Hawkestone for the past 11 years, having moved back to our county after a successful stint in Markham where she was an event planner at the Meadowbrook Golf & Country Club. On Canada Day, she will celebrate the sixth anniversary of her Barrie business. Last year, Carrie provided flowers for 52 weddings.

In 2009, she had 72. Many of them are small celebrations, but, in all cases, Carrie personally works with the bride and her family to make sure the big day is a beautiful and happy one. Clearly, this is a woman who takes pride in her work.

Carrie, who oversees her business herself and doesn’t delegate customer interaction, has attracted and retained a loyal and regular clientele. Every time the door swings open or the phone rings, Carrie welcomes a familiar face or makes friends quickly with a new referral. Almost all of her new customers come via word-of- mouth.

She tells a story of a woman who, for four years running, had phoned from London, Ont., to order flowers around Mother’s Day for her elderly mother who lived in Barrie. This year, no call came in as usual on the Friday, and Carrie worried that the elderly woman had died. On the Saturday, the door swung open and a voice said “Carrie!” It was the elderly woman’s daughter, determined to meet the friendly voice she’d grown so fond of on the phone.

Carrie was nominated as a Community Champion by her peers because she donates both her skill and her flowers to those she feels need them.

One regular client says, “She’s a giver. When I couldn’t attend one of my customer’s official openings because I was terribly ill, I called to order a basket of flowers to be delivered to the location. A beautiful arrangement was indeed delivered, but I also got one too, because I was so sick.”

Donna Douglas, the long-serving past president of Christmas Cheer, tells of Carrie, marooned in her flower shop during the busy Christmas season, asking what she could do to contribute. “Two beautiful arrangements were delivered to families who wouldn’t otherwise have had anything at all,” says Donna.

Says another grateful client: “Carrie is the first to identify someone in need and the first to respond in any way she can.”

Carrie’s story perhaps demonstrates the small joys of close human interaction in an increasingly disconnected world. In contrast to many bureaucratic business practices, Carrie is all about genuine customer service, often at a time of high emotions, such as anniversaries and funerals. She has no minimum order requirement, and will sell you a single flower if that’s all you can afford. She considers it essential that she volunteer some of her time and expertise to those who need help, and hopes that her two daughters, now 11 and six, grow up to give of themselves just as she has done.

During past winters, she’s taken her children to seniors’ residences where she sells individual stems of fresh flowers to the shut-in elderly for a nominal fee, and has her daughters handle the change.

“It’s so important to volunteer,” says Carrie. “If everyone did just a little bit for one other person, the world would be a much kinder place.”

Carrie supports the work of the David Busby Street Centre and the wonderful work its volunteers do to help people with almost nothing in a world that, despite the economic downturn, is still abundant.

“We all benefit from a little encouragement,” she says. “When you help people with so little, it helps you takes stock of your many blessings. Do something for someone else today and see how it makes you feel!”

That’s truly an enlightened, benevolent way of looking at the world.

City Florist is located at 274 Burton Ave., at 705-812-0449, or at www.cityflorist.ca.

The David Busby Street Centre focuses on reducing the impact of poverty, homeless-ness, insufficient employment, addiction and mental health issues through outreach and services to participants in the Simcoe County area. To volunteer, call 705-739-6916, or visit www.busbycentre.ca.

Paula Terry-Lancaster is the owner of Write First Time and a former board director of the David Busby Street Centre.