Mary Vance of Doug’s Flower Shop in Hornell to retire after 43 years

For more than four decades, florist Mary Vance has had expansive views of the evolving business district of Hornell while serving generations of families during their happiest and most difficult times.

Vance was hired full-time by Doug’s Flower Shop and Gifts at 162 Main Street in the fall of 1978, shortly after graduating from Alfred State College with an associate’s degree in applied science and merchandising. of floriculture.

In a business district known for its frequent comings and goings, Vance is a rarity – she came and she stayed, even when the florist changed hands in 2013.

Today, after 43 years as a Hornell florist, Vance, 65, is preparing to retire at the end of the year.

As one of Hornell’s oldest Main Street workers, Vance has been an unofficial ambassador for the business district, providing instructions “a million” times, she joked, and advising locals. from outside in search of a specific store or a good place to eat.

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Vance: “People come into the store and say, ‘The florist knows where everything is. So they’re asking for directions, it’s amazing how many people have asked for directions.

“It’s good to know your hometown because you can help people from the outside who come in and say, ‘I heard there was something really cool. I know most of the streets and what side of town they are on.

Staying in a job for more than 40 years is not typical for most Americans. According to 2020 data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, only about 3 in 10 workers aged 65 and over have been employed at the same location for 20 years or more. The median length of service is 10.3 years and the average for these workers is 14.3 years.

Vance caught herself staying in one place for so long, but there is no regrets.

“We all have good days and bad days no matter what job you do. Vance said. “(But) I think if you do something that you love and enjoy and enjoy making others happy with what you do, stick with it.”

“She knows their story”

“Mary has always been a hard-working employee and is very dedicated to the flower industry,” said Becky Canfield, who, along with her husband, Dan, bought the flower shop in 2013 from original owner Doug Gilbert. “She is very creative, excellent with customer service and will definitely be missed on Main Street as one of the go-tos, as well as one of our employees.”

Longtime Hornell resident Mayor John Buckley said Vance’s 43-year tenure at a downtown company places her in “a very special category” and “an elite company.”

“Employees like Mary are rare these days,” Buckley said. “Whether the company is new or has been around for a long time, people of Mary’s caliber truly are the backbone of the business. The knowledge accumulated over time and the connections established with community members are invaluable in many ways.

Vance said his job encompassed “pretty much everything” relating to the floral business, from processing flowers during their delivery to creating arrangements, mapping and even delivery.

Vance said he will miss helping customers and seeing their responses.

“I love to see the reaction of people who come to buy flowers and how happy it makes them,” she said. “It makes them happy to buy them, and it makes the people you ship to happy.”

“You have your favorites coming in and you become friends,” Vance continued. “Maybe not social friends, but they are friends when they come here. You know their families. They will tell you about their children and grandchildren.

Sometimes she can’t help but share their emotions.

“We make flowers from birth to death,” she said. “You get happy occasions and you get very sad occasions and you try to empathize with the deceased people in the family. And sometimes you cry with them.

Vance is popular with longtime customers because “she knows their story,” Canfield said.

“We have several clients who may have lived here locally and then moved out of town and when they call (to order flowers) they talk to him,” Canfield noted.

A city center in motion

There have been many stores in the Hornell's Main Street business district over the past four decades, but Doug's Flower Shop and Gifts at 162 Main Street remains in one location.

When Vance started working at Doug’s, the Hornell shopping district was a destination point; an area where buyers could find almost anything they needed.

“People came to downtown for a reason,” she said. “We had shoe stores, several clothing stores, men’s stores. We had a stationery store and a Hallmark store. Basically everything was full.

During this time, Main Street shoppers could also visit two drugstores, three jewelers, and the three-story department store in the Tuttle and Rockwell building.

It was a time before a lot of big retail chains started to settle on the outskirts of town, Vance explained.

“It was a draw to come downtown because all the major stores were here,” Vance said. “Every Thursday evening we were open until 8:30 pm. Over the years we have retreated as more peripheral areas developed and people did not come downtown. “

Hornell wasn’t the only one seeing an exodus from Main Street.

According to statistics from the U.S. Business Census, small businesses employed more than half of American workers in the 1980s and 1990s, but in 2107, only 47% of private sector employees worked in a small establishment.

The Washington Post noted that the coronavirus has exacerbated a predicament, reporting in a May 12, 2020 article that more than 100,000 small businesses have closed forever due to the pandemic.

The newspaper said closures are particularly problematic in small towns where closing a store or restaurant may cause more to follow.

“The city center has always changed and evolved slowly,” Buckley said. “It was very different in my parents’ childhood years compared to mine and the same can be said today. The downtown area will continue to evolve in the near future as the Downtown Revitalization Initiative projects begin to go live.

Hornell made headlines across the state in the fall of 2019 when the city was named the Southern Tier winner of the $ 10 million DRI award. Local officials predicted that the money would be a “game changer” for the downtown area of ​​the city.

As the pandemic has delayed the process, Hornell’s DRI projects will include a mix of public and private efforts to create new downtown apartments, modernize commercial spaces, boost tech education, and help downtown homeowners. city ​​to make improvements.

Vance is optimistic about the future.

“A lot has changed, but we were in the same building. I think the store will continue and be successful. I think that with Alstom here it’s very useful because we have people who come to the region, ”she said.

The language of flowers

Vance saw the sweet and the weird of his front row sight of downtown Hornell.

“One thing that’s funny is watching the kids at St. Ann’s Academy and it was St. Ann’s School, walk past the store,” Vance said. “And the daycare kids come by.”

As for the setback, all she can say is, “Just people, doing weird things. I can’t even develop.

Vance has adapted to trends in floral design, including moving away from the water oasis presentations that were more prevalent early in his career and relying much more on vase arrangements in recent years. .

The store also added tuxedo rentals to the business.

“Weddings have also changed, with more hand-tied bouquets. It’s more freestyle today than more structured arrangements,” she said.

Vance takes a wait-and-see approach to his retirement. At this point, she has no specific plans “other than to relax a bit” and spend time with her nieces, nephews and siblings.

“I like to travel, so I hope to travel a bit. I would love to go back to Ireland but I don’t know if that will ever happen, ”she added.

Vance mentioned that his favorite flower is the iris. In the language of flowers, the symbolism of the iris depends on the color. Yellow irises symbolize passion, purple irises symbolize wisdom, blue irises symbolize faith and hope.

This isn’t much of symbolism for Vance, although the iris seems to suit his career as a Hornell florist very well.

“I don’t have a reason why (these are my favorites),” she said. I have always loved the iris since my childhood. Purple, white, all colors, whatever colors. “

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