Often these days, when islanders see Caroline Walker, a stricken look will come over their faces and they’ll start apologizing profusely.
They’ll have forgotten to pay for their plants or flowers.
When COVID hit, the Walker family was left wondering how to continue their Bowen Island Flower Shop business with physical distancing measures in the 500 square foot shop. One of their main sources of income, wedding season, disappeared and their other major source of income, nursery season, was underway. After running through their options, they landed on a very Bowen solution: the honour system.
Between 10 a.m. and 5 p.m. every day, the door to the shop yard is unlocked and people can go in, two at a time, pick out what they want, bring it home and email a photo to the shop so that Walker or her daughter can invoice them.
Throughout her 14 years running the shop, Walker has let trusted customers let themselves into the shop if they really needed something after hours––her worst fear was someone leaving the gate open so the deer could get in––but never on this scale.
“We knew that we were taking somewhat of financial risk anyway because to stock the nursery costs us an arm and a leg,” said Walker. “Maybe nobody would come. Maybe people weren’t going to be as ethical as we hoped they would be. There were just so many little questions.”
“In the end, we just said, let’s just give it a go and take a chance,” she said. “If we don’t do anything…we have lost it. And if we do take a chance and it works, then we get stay afloat.”
And it worked.
“Within, I would say two days of actually opening up the honor system and people realizing that we were still functioning in this way, people started coming and they’ve been super respectful.”
Walker said that they also lucked out as they’d just made the shop’s website into an e-commerce site so people can also order online.
But keeping the shop open also means an enormous amount of work––invoicing, pick-ups, deliveries, going to town. “What we could do with one and a half people before, we now need four people to do logistically,” said Walker.
Before COVID hit, Walker had been winding down her work hours, heading into semi-retirement with her daughter Devon taking over the business. She’d been planning to travel to Greece for a retirement trip. Instead, she and her family are working seven days a week to keep the shop going.
Walker said that another reason to keep the store open in some form was to support the growers so that those businesses in turn could stay afloat––though some folded in the early days of the pandemic as they didn’t have the staff to look after the product.
But the suppliers pose another problem. Where once Walker could place an order and get 99 per cent of what she ordered, now she’s finding they’ve done well if they get 35 per cent of what they ordered. In that case, they’re scrambling, driving around to the little businesses in places like Langley, Abbotsford, Aldergrove and Chilliwack for supplies.
“It’s a six hour return trip to go and get the product, plus the ferry, plus the gas. We can’t go in and then come back half empty. So we have to make it work,” she said.
As for the people who’ve forgotten to pay, they usually remember.
“I think anybody who hasn’t paid…it’s not been because they are trying to get away without paying. It’s because they just genuinely have forgotten,” said Walker. “And eventually, the majority of them will remember.”
“We’re feeling incredibly grateful that we live in a community that we can actually keep going this way because I don’t think we could do this anywhere else,” she said.