Martha’s Vineyard’s Morrice Florist spans three generations

Martha’s Vineyard’s Morrice Florist spans three generations

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Kim O' Callaghan is the third generation owner of the family owned florist shop.

On Palm Sunday, April 1, Morrice Florist on State Road began its 73rd year as a family-run Island business under third-generation owner Kim O’Callaghan.

Family lore has it that when her great-grandfather emigrated to Martha’s Vineyard in 1920 from Dundee, Scotland, he used the skills he brought with him as a gardener to make a living for his family on the Island.

Young James Morrice, founder of the present-day business, was a toddler then and followed in his father’s footsteps. In 1940, with a fresh degree from what is now the University of Massachusetts School of Agriculture in Stockbridge in 1939, James Morrice established Morrice Florist on State Road in Tisbury.

According to published histories of the period, the family business also had a retail store at 115 Main Street in Vineyard Haven from 1951 to 1958, beneath Le Grenier’s current location. Mr. Morrice was a co-founder and at one time president of the Chamber of Commerce.

Kim O’Callaghan, third generation of the Morrice family to operate the business, recently discussed the history of flora and her family’s part in it on the Island. “My grandfather was a great guy, a lot of fun,” she said. Her daughter Gillian, a prospective fourth-generation scion, now a freshman at The College of Wooster in Wooster Ohio, sat at her side, taking in the history of her great-grandfather’s work.

Ms. O’Callaghan joined the family business in 1986, working with her mother, Janet Morrice Novak, who purchased the business from her father in 1984.

Ms. Novak operated the business until her death in 2005. Ms. O’Callaghan has been the proprietor since then, and with 26 years in the family business she has a strong sense of its continuity and of the evolution of her business.

Today, Morrice’s operates both as a greenhouse and as a florist business, but Ms. O’Callaghan believes her grandfather’s early business success was as a nursery when the Island’s year-round population of less than 5,000 principally supported itself by farming and fishing. “I think it was more of a horticulture business than a florist business then,” she said.

“See that Kousa dogwood out front? It blooms in two different colors, pink and white. Very rare to have two colors. My grandfather planted it 50 years ago and people still come in today commenting on it. That’s what he knew. That was his heritage.”

While the nursery side continues as a mainstay, Morrice’s spacious flower shop on State Road is the most visible part of the business. The indoor greenhouse stocks over 40 different varieties of house plants from exotics to sturdy ficus, “a very easy-care plant,” Ms. O’Callaghan noted.

The outdoor greenhouse features award-winning flowering and green plants as well as fruit and vegetable plants and an array of seasoning plants, including basil, coriander, rosemary, and cilantro.

Remarkably warm early spring weather was working for the business in March, particularly on Tulip Tuesday, a weekly event that brings Island residents through the doors to pick up a generous clutch of fresh-cut tulips for $10.

With spring in the air, houses opening for the season and Easter around the corner, staffers Sue Peters, Laurie Meyst, and Linda Carroll are hopping. As a late-arriving Tulip Tuesday customer zoomed in just before 6 pm closing last week, staffer Ms. Carroll smiled. “Just in time,” she said. “We’ve been busy all day. People really love this.”

Tulip Tuesday reflects the increased demand for cut flowers that Ms. O’Callaghan has noticed in recent years. “There was a time when imported cut flowers were unusual, people took note of them,” she said. “But today customers expect cut flowers to be available, and they are,” she added, gesturing to the displays and refrigerators around her store.

Ms. O’Callaghan has been busy this winter lining up an additional source of Island-grown cut flowers to meet demand.

As Ms. O’Callaghan has settled in, she has added new ideas and promotions to her business. While wedding and funeral displays are the core of most floral businesses, the range of human events for which flowers are appropriate have grown exponentially, from balloon-festooned birthday to new baby and new job celebrations.

Morrice Florist has instituted a reward program for frequent purchasers. “We call it the Frequent Flower Buyer program. It works like this: drop-in customers who spend $20 or more on five occasions get 25 percent off their next purchase,” she said, noting that additional 25 percent discounts are earned each time the five-purchase level is achieved.

Ms. O’Callaghan also offers mini-courses on floral arrangements from time to time.

Morrice Florist is open Monday through Saturday. For more information call 508-693-0392 or go to morriceflorist.com.

The store will also be open on Easter Sunday between 10 am and 2 pm.