Business

Always in bloom: Snoqualmie's Down to Earth gifts

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SNOQUALMIE - Maggie Whitaker may have the best smelling shop in Snoqualmie.

For all the desires a perfume shop or gourmet restaurant can elicit, nothing can really match the consistent pleasant aroma of flowers - and Whitaker has them at her small Down to Earth gift shop on Railroad Avenue.

"I have always loved to garden and I have always loved flowers," she said.

Although Whitaker enjoys getting dirty in the garden, she started out as an administrator at the now-defunct Mountain View School before getting into the floral business. After leaving her school job she took a six-month course in floral design and started her own party decorating business out of her home called Dogwood Floral Designs. After 5 years of running Dogwood she spent a year at a floral shop in Issaquah, but got tired of not being her own boss.

"It's hard to go from working for yourself to working for someone else," she said.

For awhile, she had her eye on the small shop next to the city of Snoqualmie's administration office on Railroad Avenue and asked the shop keeper to tell her if they ever decided to leave. In 2000, they told her they were going to vacate and Whitaker and her family got the shop open by the end of the year.

Since then, she has tried to cram as much as she could into the small space. The little room is filled with scented candles, gardening supplies and other gifts. Her shop also features work from Valley artisans such as photographer Mary Miller and sculptor Sherry Laatsch.

"The Valley is a very creative place," said Whitaker's daughter and co-worker, Ann Marie.

But flowers is what has made Down to Earth grow and Whitaker said she has managed to stay busy year round in the business. There are spikes on holidays and at prom time, but the Valley always seems to have fertile ground for those wanting a new arrangement or special local gift.

Down to Earth has been a family operation (Ann Marie stepped in to help a year and a half ago) and it is the family-style attitude toward business that Whitaker credits for her success. When a floral shop opened up in the Snoqualmie Ridge retail area last year, Whitaker said she was initially nervous about the competition. Her customers have kept coming back, though, and she thinks she has the customer base and loyalty to stay in the Valley for quite some time.

"I think there is enough business for both of us," she said.

She will have to keep up with the latest trends like any retailer and Whitaker said the floral world is no exception to the ebb and flow of whims and fashions. Carnations and baby's breath, for instance, are out, while novelty flowers are in. Some flowers are considered staples for certain occasions, but other events can have as many arrangements as there are personalities.

"A lot of trends are based on what is happening at weddings," said Ann Marie. "A lot of people get ideas from Martha Stewart."

Roses, however, will never go out of style and Whitaker said she is stocked for Valentine's Day. They have always been a sure pleaser for the amorous holiday and for men waiting until the last minute to get their loved one a bouquet.

"You can always be safe with roses," said Ann Marie.

Whitaker said she would eventually like to expand to a larger location in Snoqualmie. The current location has an aesthetic coziness, but leaves little room for storage, flower arranging and general space for standing around.

No matter what the size of the shop, Whitaker said the service will still be the same.

"We just treat others the way we would want to be treated," she said.

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