David and Chong McCullough fell into the flower business 30 years ago, when a rose wholesaler looking to unload some stems approached the couple, then owners of Apex Grocery on 4th Avenue across from Ralph’s Thriftway.
The price was right and David (who passed away in 2005) plunked the roses into buckets and set them out in front of the store. When they quickly sold out, he bought (and sold) more. A new business was born, and the McCulloughs opened House of Roses in 1981.
“David was the one who was outgoing, a people man. He knew everything. I only know flowers,” Chong, who moved from Korea in 1966, says with a laugh.
The company found early success and expanded several times. A second store, in Aberdeen, was sold in 1984 and is still going strong as Kathy’s House of Roses.
The McCulloughs also opened stores in Longview and Yakima. But they found that absentee ownership didn’t interest them, and eventually concentrated all their energy on the West Olympia store.
At one time, the shop employed 16 people, according to Chong, but today only a small handful keep the shop running.
The Harrison Avenue storefront is a large, well-lit space, lined in front with gift items, such as intricate dolls, stuffed animals, handbags, and candles. At one end, a corner fireplace beckons, hugged by two armchairs. This spot, Chong says, is where she meets with clients making flower arrangements for funerals. It’s a calm, quiet corner, apt for such a somber occasion.
A large walk-in cooler of artfully created flower arrangements created by Chong or her employee, Dawn, takes up the left side of the shop. At the back of the shop’s pace is a large work area, where the beautiful bouquets are created.
Chong has a knack for creating lovely floral arrangements – and recreating ideas she discovers at industry events.
“I go to gift shows and see so many designs,” she says. “I can look at them, then come home and try it.”
And even after 30 years of crafting bouquets, Chong still gets energized when talking about her chosen profession.
“When the flowers come in and they’re so fresh, I get excited,” she says. “I feel like I can make anything. I just love the flowers.”
“Sometimes we’ll get an order for two dozen, three dozen roses,” she says, growing animated. “And I make it so nice, so beautiful, in just one second.” Chong’s hands move around the imaginary flowers rapidly, as she makes a “ch, ch, ch” sound, demonstrating her flower prowess.
Chong’s genuine affection for flora is just one reason to choose House of Roses. Custom orders are created with care and attention to detail – not to mention with 30 years of experience guiding them.
And, Dawn mentions, most orders can be done that very day, sometimes within a couple of hours.
A box holding six dozen spools of thin ribbon in every hue rests on one work surface, awaiting the high school students who come in just before the big dances to order their color-coordinated corsages.
“The kids come in the afternoon and pick everything out – that’s fun,” says Dawn. “I like a lot of the walk-in customers who want something right then. I get to hear about who the flowers are going to and it all just comes together.”
A recent visit to the shop found fall colors everywhere, as well as Halloween décor. “Every time the seasons come, we change things,” Chong says.
House of Roses’ most popular item is an arrangement of six red roses and three stems of stargazer lilies. “People like this one so much,” Chong says, pointing out the gorgeous display in the cooler.
A large basement is filled with seasonal decorations and other display props. A huge, now-warm walk-in cooler handles décor overflow.
A few years ago, that giant cooler still wasn’t enough to handle all the business House of Roses had at the holidays.
But times change, and even though the shop has a pile of FTD’s Top 1,000 Florists plaques and regularly places first or second in the Best of the South Sound Best Florist category, many shoppers now go for the grab-and-go convenience of the grocery store chain or online shopping.
But if you prefer to spend your dollars locally, give House of Roses a look. Their prices are competitive with the big guys: A dozen multi-colored roses, simply wrapped, are just $12.99. And you just can’t beat Chong’s years of experience and passion for floristry.
House of Roses
1821 Harrison Ave. NW
Olympia WA 98502