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The power of flowers in a pandemic

Sandi Pulkrabek, right, and daughter Brooke Pulkrabek at Flowers for Sally, the Grantsville florist shop Sandi opened in 2018.
Sandi Pulkrabek, right, and daughter Brooke Pulkrabek at Flowers for Sally, the Grantsville florist shop Sandi opened in 2018.
Lee Benson, Deseret News

GRANTSVILLE — Valentine’s Day is coming up and Sandi Pulkrabek is ready. At least she hopes she’s ready. After what happened last Mother’s Day, she doesn’t want to be caught off guard.

If life during the pandemic has taught her anything, it’s taught her this: People are not social distancing from flowers.

Sandi owns Flowers for Sally, the florist shop located on Main Street in the heart of Grantsville she named as a tribute to her mother, Sally Severe Bolinder, who passed away at the age of 82 in 2013. Sally loved flowers, but more than that, she loved Sandi.

“I have such a deep love for my mom; she was always encouraging me in everything I did,” says Sandi. “She taught me to work hard and believe in my dreams. I think she’d be proud of me for working hard and making this business go.”

Sandi wears all the hats at Flowers for Sally: founder, owner, buyer, arranger, deliverer. “Kind of a one man band,” she calls herself.

She opened her store two and a half years ago, in September of 2018. Took out a small business loan, rented the building on Main, brought in inventory, braced herself for the rush of customers … and then sat down and watched TV.

“For the first couple of months I really didn’t have anything going,” she says. “I’d sit here and watch Netflix and do a lot of praying.”

But soon enough word of mouth — and affiliating with some effective wire services — started to turn the tide. It helped that Sally was born and raised in Grantsville — her great-great-grandfather was Harrison Herman Severe, one of the town’s two founders — and that she knew her customer base well.

Every month, business got a little bit better. And then the pandemic hit in March 2020.

At first, the forecast was dire. People sheltered in place and didn’t do much of anything, including ordering flowers. Sandi turned Netflix back on. “I told my husband, ‘Maybe I’m going to go stock shelves at Smith’s, ’cause you gotta pay the bills, right?’” she recalls.

Then, “all of a sudden it got crazy busy.”

When Mother’s Day came around in May of 2020, the phone started ringing and never stopped. Sandi didn’t just double her business from the first Mother’s Day she was open in 2019, she tripled her business.

She wound up drafting everybody in the family to help out that week. Her husband, Ray, wore out the highway driving back and forth to the wholesaler in Salt Lake City for more flowers.

Ever since, business has been up significantly from when there wasn’t a pandemic going on.

Sandi has her guesses as to why this is.

“I just feel like that with the pandemic that we are limited to what we can and can’t do,” she says. “We can’t go visit loved ones as much as we’d like, or go out to eat for birthdays and special occasions like before, so I think people are sending flowers to cheer people up or to send them love or sympathy.”

She continues, “It breaks my heart people have to go through losing their loved ones, or losing their jobs. This has been hard on everyone. But yes, it’s true that it has been great for business. And if flowers can help brighten someone’s day, I love to be able to play a part in that.”

For Valentine’s, she braced for another surge. “I’ve ordered 2,000 dozen roses,” she says — a number that’s up several notches from a year ago.

Hopefully it’ll be enough.

“It’s always a gamble. You can get a lot of spoilage in this business if you’re not careful and that’s not good,” says Sandi. “But given what’s been going on the past year I feel confident. People are sending a lot of flowers. In spite of everything else, it’s something they can do.”