For Steve and Judy Mann, Pot of Green Florist is 46 years and the rest of their lives
Stonington — When Steve and Judy Mann opened Pot of Green Florist, then located in downtown Mystic, Judy was carrying around their infant son.
Their son is now 47, and when he got married two years ago, his parents provided the flowers.
A picture of the Manns' son and daughter-in-law adorns the perimeter of the cut-flower case in their shop, joined by thank-you notes bearing messages such as "they were everything we had imagined and hoped for" and "Judy, you truly outdid yourself with our Easter arrangement."
In recent years, Judy has found herself putting together wedding floral arrangements for someone whose parents came in for flowers when they got married 20 or 30 years prior, and she has done multiple weddings for the same person.
On Thursday, she was working on arrangements with hydrangeas and delphiniums for a memorial service at Calvary Church.
Steve and Judy are 77 and 74, and Steve recently observed that the years have made him less aggressive in terms of discussions with customers about spending money. He doesn't consider the Connecticut economy "all that good," and he doesn't want to scare people off.
Asked if they have a target date or age for retirement, Judy responded without hesitation, "No. We're both going to drop dead right here. I hope it's not soon."
Locations and customer base change
Since its opening in 1973, Pot of Green has evolved from offering primarily indoor house plants to also selling outdoor plants, cut flowers, annuals, perennials and shrubs. Current inventory includes orange trees, orchids, gardenias, roses, carnations, lilies and tulips.
Pot of Green has also evolved from its original location to one across the street, then one near the Mystic drawbridge where rats became a problem, then one across from Sea Swirl in Mystic that was too small, and since 2001 its spot at 165 S. Broad St., the plaza across from the police station.
Before opening Pot of Green, Steve worked for the state welfare department and Judy for the chief of staff at Lawrence + Memorial Hospital.
Both of their fathers owned their own businesses, "so it was always kind of inbred," Judy said. But her parents were not happy to see Steve giving up a job with a pension.
Between talking about a Robusta Green Juniper and succulents on Thursday, Steve commented about plants, "Tradition is understandable, but we're not totally just into tradition here. We're into progressivism."
One of his favorite plants is Pennisetum Fireworks, a purple fountain grass annual that can last six months. Steve focuses more on outdoor plants while Judy is the indoor person.
Judy said the walk-in traffic has diminished over the years, whereas hanging baskets were once so popular "you practically had to take a number to come into our store" on Fridays. Unlike in the previous Mystic locations, their shop is set far back from the road, which in the past resulted in disputes with the town and fines over signage.
Steve said the customer base also changed and they rely more on older generations. He doesn't think the millennial generation has the funds, though the store does include 4-inch pots for as little as $6. But they're fine with people just coming in to browse, perhaps if they're waiting for their laundry at laundromat in the plaza.
"When people come in here, they learn," Steve said. "Whether they buy something or not, the object is to educate."
Judy said that while she likes making people happy, her husband is the one who really loves what he does.
"The greatest thing that I have ever gotten out of this business is the enjoyability factor," Steve said, "and sitting here, day after day, year after year, I developed an intimate, close connection with the plants."
They make a point of saying hello when people walk in and asking if they need something, a habit Judy has been surprised not to see at some other florists.
Steve might be playing music from the '40s or Broadway tunes, or if there's no one in the store but she's working on a flower arrangement, Judy will put on an audiobook. On the counter is their quiet 15-year-old Papillon dog, Lizzie, who sits behind a sign reading, "Please don't approach me. I'm a little shy and anxious."
Accumulating 46 years of stories
Some local businesses the Manns have worked with through Pot of Green include Chelsea Groton Bank, Mystic Marriott, Hilton Mystic, Norwich Inn and Spa, and Saltwater Farm Vineyard.
Judy said that when a pet dies, the Groton Ledyard Veterinary Hospital buys flowers to send to the pet's owner. Then there's the attorney who bought 13 plants for his customers this past Christmas.
Judy has accumulated a lot of anecdotes over the years, ones that she quickly rolls off while turning to her husband partway through to ask, "Do you remember this one?"
Outside of Pot of Green, she volunteers at the New London Homeless Hospitality Center every Monday and at the New London Community Meal Center. The Chamber of Commerce of Eastern Connecticut named her Volunteer of the Year in 2013.
As for Steve, if he's not working he might be at home gardening.
He said that because of the colors and the smells, "If you do not want to spend a lot of money on automobiles or driving around — maybe you're worried about tolls — you can become addicted to the hobby of gardening."