There’s a run-of-the-mill shopping center in a middle class neighborhood. It covers the bases with a Starbucks, nail salon, donut shop, UPS store -you get the idea. A well-known grocery chain sits in the center of these stores. Despite every grocery having a floral department, one florist shop has been a steady presence over thirty years of lease adjustments and the comings and goings of other retailers.
Behind these retailers is the shared dumpster space and loading zone. The neighborhood nuzzled up behind it is shielded from this eyesore by a moderately high, 90-degree brick wall. Residents of the neighborhood often avoid the intersection by exiting through the back, aka, taking the scenic route. It was noticed how the florist was discarding unsold arrangements and other moderately wilted inventory. Boxes were placed outside of the dumpster, other flowers thrown away within their plastic wrap. It’s not as if one needed to weed through food refuse or pick particulars away with tweezers. The real bang for the buck was discarded after holidays like Valentine’s, Easter, Mother’s Day. Mondays, after the weekend, also put out good pickins.
Two middle-aged ladies happened to be duplex neighbors on one of the perpendicular streets exiting this parking lot. They shared a two-car garage and had become very familiar running buddies. What had begun as a casual remark about having grabbed ‘Perfectly fine long stem roses! Can you believe it?’ became a plan to look out for with intentional strategy. Thus, these two ladies became dumpster divers. Most of what they hauled off was still close to fresh, but the timing had to be just right. An immediate protocol was followed to insure longer-lasting results. All arrangements were dumped out of their delivery boxes or plastic wrap onto a long wooden bench that ran the length of the garage. Barely bent stems had to be hung upside-down immediately with wires run through to keep pert; some flowers lain flat and pressed, laminated; everything preserved with shellacking spray. Minimal expense was paid for additional tools to complete the crafts -mainly wire, thread, or ribbons. Out of this workmanship came dried floral arrangements; bowls of potpourri doused in essential oils; dried flower wreaths; holiday-themed, color specific wreaths; laminated gifts like bookmarks. The sheer volume of loot became daunting and overwhelming at times. Because if the getting was good at this florist, what about other flower shops in the city?
An entire enterprise built up. The mess of their operation would pour out beyond the garage and exude a sickly-sweet smell of decay. Layers of dead petals and wilted greenery would crunch under foot like crumbling crackers before sweeping was considered. All of this effort and DIY enthusiasm was years before Etsy or online sellers existed for this sort of thing. Neighborhood gossip saw this as ‘whims of wild women,’ and literally trashy. It didn’t help that one did dress like a Harper Valley PTA mother in short denim shorts. Each time her friend bolstered her up over the open square of the trash can, a lower part of her bum would expose itself. What’s funny is they both wore landscaping gloves to prevent stabs from the rose thorns, but otherwise neither dressed for the venture; sometimes house dresses and flip-flops.
The side hustle paid off for a handful of years. The gifts given and general results of their projects turned people around. The two ladies made some fun, extra cash. By growing old and growing tired, it organically fell away. It did last long enough to become neighborhood folklore, and an inside joke easily fell into car conversations “Look, there’s a florist. We should drive behind to the back and see if anything’s been thrown out.”
“One man’s trash is another man’s treasure.” Historical etymology