How It's Made: Bouquets at Charley's Flowers

CHILLICOTHE― Charley's Flowers is the ultimate family business, with Mary Rusk and her three siblings working in the shop together for over 50 years.

Charley and Jean Rusk opened the floral shop in downtown Chillicothe in 1966 with their four children. The siblings always came to the shop after school and helped wherever they could, from sweeping the floors to cleaning the coolers.

Mary officially began working in the shop at 15 and started by recreating her father's flower arrangements until she developed her own "artistic flair." Charley and Jean retired from the shop in 1983, passing the business on to their children.

Although many aspects of the business have changed over time like suppliers, techniques and employees, the shop remains at 19 S. Paint St. and the siblings continue to work together every day.

Even though the siblings have petty arguments from time to time, they all work well together and enjoy spending time with each other. They even continue to spend time with each other outside of work.

"We haven't killed each other yet," Mary said.

Making a bouquet

Charley and Jean Rusk opened Charley's Flowers in 1966. Over 50 years later, the business is still run by their four children.
Charley and Jean Rusk opened Charley's Flowers in 1966. Over 50 years later, the business is still run by their four children.

Walking into the shop, there is the undeniable scent of fresh spring flowers, a smell that is typically hard to come by in the middle of October. Constantly surrounded by the smell, Mary said she doesn't notice it anymore.

Fresh flower deliveries are made every day from Columbus, with large orders coming in about once a week. The deliveries are kept in coolers at about 38 degrees to keep the flowers fresh.

Mary said the shop has constant demand. Valentine's is the busiest time of year when the shop typically "plows through" about 4,000 roses. Closely following the February holiday is Christmas, Easter, Mother's Day and prom season. On top of that, Charley's Flowers keeps up with year-round weddings and funerals, along with supplying Adena's hospital gift shop.

Mary said each basic arrangement starts with a container, water, greens and flowers. A preservative is added to the water to keep the flowers looking fresh for as long as possible.

Every choice for the bouquet depends on what the client is looking for, which tends to be seasonal. For fall, Mary chooses warm tones like orange, yellow and red. Being the shortest season, she said fall is her favorite since it feels the most different than other times of the year. Mary visits different corners of the shop to grab all of the supplies.

The greens are added first to help the flowers stand out and make the arrangement "fluffier." Fresh green baker fern is added to the bouquet first.

For this arrangement, the "main" flowers are added first, followed by "filler flowers" like daisies and chrysanthemums. Each flower is cut to size to fit into the vase, which Mary does without measuring.

Mary knows "little tricks" from working with flowers for so long, like using a discarded stem to extend certain flowers that are too short for the vase.

After finishing the planned arrangement, Mary examines the piece to see if it feels complete. She decides to add some pops of blue and an orange rose to complete the bouquet. When she feels stuck with an arrangement, she remembers her dad's advice: just add white.

However, she always remembers one piece of advice when making an arrangement- less is more.

"There's an old man that used to have Simon's Flowers back in the day. He said if you left that one flower out that you add, you could buy a Cadillac at the end of the year," Mary said.

Mary Rusk creates a fall flower arrangement from scratch.
Mary Rusk creates a fall flower arrangement from scratch.

After working with flowers for almost 50 years, Mary can complete every step with her eyes closed. Although she enjoys the creativity behind creating arrangements, she said her favorite part of the business is seeing the customer's reaction.

"You get to see instant results. They get so excited to see flowers. Flowers make people happy," Mary said. "They make you feel good, even in sympathy, they comfort you. They comfort all of us."

Delicate arrangements are transported in sturdy holders to keep the flowers upright in the delivery van.
Delicate arrangements are transported in sturdy holders to keep the flowers upright in the delivery van.

From Kingston to Bainbridge, Charley's Flowers travels across the county to deliver its products, often driving over 100 miles per day. Special foam blocks are used to keep the flowers upright in the delivery van. From there, flowers are sent off to make someone's day.

About the series

How It's Made is a series highlighting unique products and services in Chillicothe and Ross County. If you have a suggestion for a future business to feature, email Megan at mbecker@gannett.com.

This article originally appeared on Chillicothe Gazette: How It's Made: Bouquets at Charley's Flowers