No More Magic

Bob and Sharon Hearne have owned Magic Flowers – the flower stand that straddles the passageway between Vons and Santa Barbara Bank & Trust at the Vons Shopping Center on Coast Village Road – for more than 16 years. The couple won’t, however, be celebrating a full seventeenth year in business: they are throwing in their clippers and heading for Las Vegas.

Their cheery presence outside the bank will be missed by many, including yours truly, but despite the popularity of their business, Sharon says, “It’s time to move on, time for a change.” She says it’s a young person’s job and that, at 55, she “has some health issues” and is “no longer that young person. Besides,” she says, “we’re ready to be indoors and have a new life, something easier.”

The following short interview with Bob and Sharon was conducted at Magic Flowers just before the business closed Monday, January 1 for a two-week makeover. The shop will re-open Tuesday, January 16, but without Sharon – who will have relocated to Las Vegas; Bob will be on hand, but actively seeking a buyer.

Q. What is it that makes selling flowers a ‘young person’s’ job?

A. (Sharon) Well, there’s so much to do. We pick up buckets every day. We open and we close; there’s a lot of physical activity. After sixteen, seventeen years, it’s tough.

You considered relocating to many other locations including Washington State, Oregon, and Idaho, but have settled upon Las Vegas. Why?

Job opportunities. We can get jobs – easier jobs.

You already have something lined up in Las Vegas?

Yes, with Mayesh Wholesale Floral. They have sixteen locations around the country and one of those locations is in Las Vegas. I’ll be selling to all the major hotels. [Mayesh] has four trucks that come in from L.A. four times a week. We check it out, put [the order] on a truck and it gets to where it needs to be. It’s a really good transition for me. I’ll be working with the flowers but I don’t have to arrange them anymore.

Has Bob found a job there too?

No. Bob is going to stay behind to sell the business and get our house (in Ventura) sold. Hopefully, sooner than later.

You are selling your house?

Yes. We can make a little bit off our house here and get something there for a third of the cost of what we would pay here. And, they are beautiful homes. [Las Vegas is] really overbuilt right now, so that’s why the incentives are incredible.

For example?

Like, for three hundred thousand dollars, we can get a beautiful two thousand-square-foot single-level home up in the hills of Henderson, about eight or twelve miles from Las Vegas, and they’ll give us forty-five thousand dollars worth of upgrades. They’ll pay closing costs and two years’ homeowners’ association fees.

Have you chosen your new home?

No. Until we do, we’re going to live in an apartment, but what we did see, is incredible.

Your flower stand is up for sale. A new owner would be offered a lease, correct?

I don’t know about the details, because that will be up to Santa Barbara Bank & Trust. But they are looking to keep a flower shop here and they know we are trying to sell it. They are working with us. We want somebody to take this over that would continue what it is.

What would a buyer of your business be getting?

Well, what they’d be getting is a lot of great customers. Every holiday, we see the same people over and over and every year our holidays just keep getting better and better. It’s a great little business.

Is this a one-man business or better for a couple? And, can it be run without employees?

Sharon: You need some kind of help.

Bob: One person and a part-timer could do it.

Sharon: It’ll work with one or two girls helping out, but something like this, you need to be here all the time, I think. [Twenty-year-old Samantha Friedman has been helping out the Hearnes for two and a half years, and Sharon says she calls upon friends and family “if we need ‘em.”]

Who are your customers?

Women in their thirties and forties. A lot of Montecito moms are our major daily buyers, but the men come out on the major holidays. [The three top flower-selling holidays, in descending order, according to the Hearnes, are Valentine’s Day, Mother’s Day, and Thanksgiving.]

What makes Magic Flowers unique?

We keep our prices a little bit lower, because we don’t have a bunch of overhead. Everybody has their own little niche…

…And, yours is?

Bob: I’d say her [looking at Sharon] customer service and design abilities.

Sharon: You get the same thing you’d get from a great florist, but a little bit less expensive.

How about the downside of the floral business?

Mass marketing. That’s kind of hurting us now. All the grocery stores, everyone sells flowers. When we first started in this business, there was no Farmers’ Market down the road; there was nothing inside Vons and then, well, you see how it’s grown. Mass marketing has hurt us.

But, there’s no comparison between what one gets from a mass marketer and what you deliver.

I know. Quality is our number-one thing, and our customers always agree. We’ve always kept quality. Samantha knows; she’s been to a lot of the other places and people just go, ‘This is the best flower stand going.’ Because, we are. We’re like a little ‘outdoor florist.’ We’re not your typical bunch of cheap dead crap. You can quote me on that.

Could someone who knows nothing about flowers run such a business?

Bob: It would be hard, really. There’s a basic business here that happens every day and every week, every month. In order to build upon that, we’d recommend that somebody have a floral background. Fresh flowers come in daily. We get deliveries from Oxnard and Carpinteria, but we go and hand-select everything ourselves. Occasionally, we’ll order it sight unseen but if it gets here and it’s no good, we’ll just send it back.

Sharon: They’d need to know something. I didn’t have that, but I had a flair for design and once I started doing it, I knew I had it.

So, we’re not talking about getting up at two o’clock in the morning and going down to the L.A. flower market to buy, right?

Oh no. Everything is local. It’s all here or in Carp. There’s probably eight or ten places we go to, but they are all local. And, if someone has a special order, they’ll call us and tell us what it is and we’ll go pick it up for them. We’re good at that. We’re good at working with our customers: whatever they want, we’ll get it for them.

Sharon, do you have any parting observations?

It’s been a great sixteen years for us to have this, it really has. We’ve met some great people. It’s afforded us to own a home and keep it going, so it’s been a good thing for us. But, it’s a lot of work. The upside is that it’s lovely working with the flowers. Look at them [she points to the buckets of multi-colored flowers behind us]. Flowers are beautiful, and if you have a little bit in you, it’s fun to create. It’s really satisfying when I do a wedding or I do a party and [my client] says, ‘Oh my gosh, it’s so beautiful.’ Or, when a bride calls and says, ‘Thank you so much, you really made my day.’ That is really rewarding.

Magic Flowers (805-565-5788) is scheduled to re-open January 16. Its hours of operation are Tuesday through Saturday, from 10 am to 5:30 pm; additionally, the business is open on virtually all holidays. As for their attempt to sell Magic Flowers, both Bob and Sharon stress that the Vons Shopping Center people (actually, the leasing division of Santa Barbara Bank & Trust) are willing to work with a new owner to make a transition smooth as possible. “They are great landlords, really they are,” Sharon avers.

They Call The Wind Maria

Before attending this New Year’s Eve’s superb Wild West Pops Concert, many had probably never really listened to Lerner & Lowe’s haunting melody from their hit musical “Paint Your Wagon.” But, thanks to Santa Barbara Symphony and vocal soloist Kevin Earley, a New Year’s Eve audience of more than 1,500 thrilled to the power and majesty of both the tune and the lyrics: “Away out here they got a name for rain and wind and fire, The rain is Tess, the fire Joe, and they call the wind Maria. Maria blows the stars around and sends the clouds a’flyin,’ Maria makes the mountains sound like folks were up there dying.” The image of a wind so strong it “blows the stars around,” sung by the powerfully nuanced Mr. Earley, was enough to give many of us shivers. Earley followed that up with a rousing and self-mocking send-up of Mel Brooks’s “Blazing Saddles” (lyrics by John Morris) from the film of the same name.

We had our money’s worth after “guest conductor” Patricia Gregory led a hilariously fast-paced “Overture to William Tell,” but conductor Richard Kaufman accelerated the evening further by introducing guest fiddler Tom Demer immediately following a full orchestral arrangement of Elmer Bernstein’s (a former Montecito resident) “The Magnificent Seven.” Demer and his supercharged fiddling – with and without the symphony orchestra – then mesmerized us until Earley returned to sing Dale Evans’s “Happy Trails” and ending the evening with a sing-along “Auld Lang Syne” as noisemakers tweeted, honked, whistled, and blared, and balloons dropped from the faux-starry ceiling.

A Happy New Year to you, too!

Long Live Saddam Hussein!

James Towle, vacationing in Mexico with his wife, Rose Marie, chortles when he reads international press reports concerning the supposed “death” of former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein. Towle knows better. “Among boxes and tightly packed shelves, between tacos and burritos, under cases of watered down Mexican beer, squeezed between bottles of cactus spirits,” he reports, “I found [Saddam] alive and well and working in a small grocery store in Mexico under an assumed name!” Mr. Towle notes that Saddam, whom, he says, prefers to be called José Jimenez, seemed like “a pretty good worker.”

Who knew?

Diving In Palau

During a dive trip – mostly advanced diving in very strong currents – to the island nation of Palau recently, Stephen Kurtzer and longtime girlfriend Christina Ramirez spent a couple of hours sightseeing on the island of Peleliu and discovered that a major WWII battle took place there, one that was an important stepping stone to taking back the Philippines. In the fall of 1944, Americans faced a force of some 13,500 Japanese troops hunkered down in a maze of artificial tunnels and fortified caves. U.S. forces had to contend with not only mines and obstacles on the beach, but also seriously deficient intelligence, which had supplied the faulty information that the island was essentially flat. The volcanic island, it turned out, rose to 500 feet above sea level in places. Navy frogmen, submarines, and aerial photographers failed to note a mountainous area called “Umurbrogol,” that became the site of fierce fighting at what the Americans dubbed “Bloody Nose Ridge.” The battle for Peleliu included days of hand-to-hand combat and ranks as among the bloodiest of the war, alongside Tarawa and Iwo Jima.

Steve and Christina report that many artifacts of that battle remain scattered about the island as a living history that add to the appeal of visiting such an out-of-the-way place.