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Sweet Memories Flowers lets the Customer Choose

Jan 26, 2015 10:51AM ● Published by Brandi Barnett

Making Memories

February 2015
By Jordan Venema
Photos: Johanna DeJonge

Shelley DeJonge struggles to find an answer. “It’s a a good question,” she ponders, then goes silent. “But I don’t think there is one.” DeJonge can’t think of a favorite flower, but since she spends her days surrounded by them, it’s understood: she loves them all. Sweet Memories carries flowers from all over the world — Holland, South America, Australia, Thailand — so she’s not without her professional opinion. “Proteas are exotic and hardy… peonies are beautiful… and the Free Spirit Rose has a wonderful smell,” she offers. But more than those, she lets her customers choose their pleasure.
   
DeJonge opened Sweet Memories in 1990 after her husband sold his logging business. The timing was right. “My sister had Good Goods in this building, and she wanted to sell and do her own thing, expand,” explains DeJonge. So when her sister, Sandra Hall, sold the shop, DeJonge moved in. It wasn’t the first time DeJonge had a small business or followed in her sister’s steps, so to say. When DeJonge was a student at UCLA, she worked at Hall’s shop, Country Stuff, selling her own goods – plants, Indian baskets and rugs, jewelry. “They worked their tails off,” DeJonge says with a laugh, “but I kind of goofed off. I mean, I was 18.”
   
More than 20 years later, DeJonge again found herself selling plants – dried flowers. She and her husband settled on the name Sweet Memories. “We were riding the car trying to think about a name for the shop,” explains DeJonge. “We were thinking about the best ice cream and candy shop, called Dewar’s… and about Bakersfield and being raised there, and we had such sweet memories of the place. And I thought, that’s it! I want people to have sweet memories here.”
   
Sweet Memories began as a gift shop selling Christmas ornaments, small furniture, throw rugs, and dried plants and flowers. Sometime in April of their first year, DeJonge had “200 little short bunches of roses on the back porch, and we were starting the process to hang them to dry,” when a customer asked if he could buy them fresh. DeJonge had never before imagined selling fresh flowers, she says, laughing: “We didn’t know how to do that!” But she sold the roses fresh to the customer, “and lo and behold,” says DeJonge, other customers began asking to have fresh flowers put in jars, tied together, arranged. That was how Sweet Memories began its transformation into what DeJonge calls her “floral workshop.”
   
Sweet Memories isn’t your typical floral shop. While you can walk in and buy a single rose or a bouquet, you won’t find ready-made arrangements or a glass case display. She makes everything custom, exactly to the specifications of her customers. DeJonge wants to keep the flowers fresh and give customers exactly what they’re looking for – whether it’s a large arrangement for a wedding or shower, or a single corsage for prom or a personalized bouquet. Basically, explains DeJonge, “if we’ve got it, and you want it, you can have it whichever way.”
   
In the nearly 25 years since DeJonge sold her first fresh flower, she’s learned a lot about the industry, but never through a formal education. She admits they didn’t know a thing about floral arrangements and learned everything through the school of hard knocks. “Somebody wanted a corsage and we didn’t know how to make a corsage,” DeJonge says. “So we bought one and tore it apart, dissected it and learned how to put it together.” They’ve come a long way in 25 years, says DeJonge, enough that her daughter, who works for DeJonge, has entered competitions for magazines “and she’s won all kinds of contests for these crazy corsages.”
   
If you love your work, you’ll pour yourself into it, which helps explains why DeJonge has become such a talented and successful florist, even without the training. DeJonge explains that she has the great pleasure of working with people during the hallmarks of their lives, the moments they’ll remember and cherish: weddings, births, anniversaries and proms. “You get to know these people,” says DeJonge, “and I love my customers. I consider them friends. If I didn’t have bills, shoot, I’d probably do this for free.”
   
Perhaps when DeJonge retires she will do it for free. In the meantime, she spends her days working at Sweet Memories, arranging flowers for her friends – that is, her customers. “But I’m 64, so I’ve still got a ways to go.” So does DeJonge keep flowers in her own home? “No, never,” she says. “I’m like the cobbler. No shoes for his children. Anyway, I’m hardly ever home, so why should I? I’m surrounded by flowers all day here.” And for now, that’s how she likes it.
 
Sweet Memories Flowers • 2244 East Mineral King Ave., Visalia
(559) 625-5242 • Hrs M-F 9 am - 5 pm and Sat 9-12pm
www.sweetmemoriesweddings.com •  facebook.com/sweetmemoriesflowers

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