Valentine’s Day is a busy one for Flowers on 15th.
Last year. the line ran out the door and, by the end of it, there wasn’t a single flower or scrap of greenery left in the shop. But nearly every day here is busy — there’s always some occasion in urgent need of floral accompaniment.
If you have spent any time on 15th Ave E between Republican and Mercer, you’ve probably seen owner Alex Soto bustling armfuls of flora into his red truck on his way to another of the day’s many deliveries. When I visited the shop on a sunny Monday morning, Soto was busy loading up flowers for the joint memorial service of former Washington Governor John Spellman and his wife, Lois, who died within days of each other at the age of 91 and 90, respectively.
Before he hurried out the door, Soto shared the best way to understand his business. “Check out our Yelps,” he said, “That’s who we are. We belong to those people. They love us because we listen to them and we do what they want us to do. The only reason people give us money is because they trust us.”
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Indeed, the shop has the most uniformly positive Yelp profile of any local business you’ll see, with pages of five-star reviews and glowing testimonials from ecstatic customers. It’s uncanny, but also not surprising. Flowers on 15th is a quaint little independently owned neighborhood boutique, an increasing rarity in an area overrun by corporate retail takeovers. Compared to sterile, stark lines of new development, walking into this cramped and cluttered jungle feels like a small revelation. It’s a refreshing oasis of funky local eccentricity that has been here for 16 years, a hidden gem of now-bygone Capitol Hill. It’s no wonder the Yelpers would find it five-star-worthy. (Also, their prices are a fraction of what the chain florists charge.)
Caroline Morton has been “playing” here — she refuses to call it work — for the past eleven years. She minds the shop and whips up arrangements while Soto is careening around town with his truckload of deliveries. Morton insists numerous times that I talk to Soto — “Alex is Mr. Sunshine!” — but there’s no telling when he’ll be back in the shop with a spare moment to talk.
Besides, Morton has plenty of stories to share, many of them about Soto’s adventures around town in the delivery truck. He’s rushed to the aid of elderly ladies who fell down on the sidewalk, delivered lost children home to their worried parents, and once picked up a woman who had gone into labor at a bus stop.
“He called here and asked, ‘Where should I take her?’ I said, ‘Take her to Swedish! And hope her water doesn’t break in the truck!’”
Morton is bright-eyed and unfailingly friendly. She gives the impression that anyone who walks through the door has as much claim to the space as she does — she just “plays” here. Some of the area’s elderly longtime residents stop to rest on their way to the grocery store, or clear a space to sit quietly and read a book. One woman gives piano lessons to children on the old upright crammed into the front corner of the shop.
Morton remembers the many old-timers who have passed away over the years. They’re memorialized in a “neighborhood altar” in the front window, a jumble of catholic icons, funeral announcements and obituaries, children’s drawings and random relics. She says anything added to the altar stays there for good.
Years ago, she arrived to discover that someone had thrown a rock through the front window. The next morning, she found the culprit had slipped $136 through the mail slot along with a note of apology scrawled on a Walgreens receipt. She wrapped the note around the rock and added it to the altar, where it remains.
Flowers on 15th is located at 515 15th Ave E. You can learn more at flowerson15th.com.