Joseph Shadroui never wanted to become a shop owner. That was his father’s line of work. But pre-school teacher didn’t fit him either, so when someone steered him towards floral design, he tried it—and when the opportunity to own a shop in Charlestown came along, he took it.
Thirty five years later, “Joe the Florist” is a neighborhood icon. Ask him for a donation, and he’ll give it: centerpieces for the senior luncheon and the Bunker Hill celebrations, sponsorship for the toddler T-ball and men’s softball teams.
For all his support of Charlestown, last summer The Town returned the favor while Joe was recovering in the hospital from a serious accident. He woke up to his partner, Larry Bowling, at left, and dozens of Get Well cards from his friends and customers at Bunker Hill Florist—enough to fill an entire Whole Foods bag.
“It was like ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’,” he said.
Here, in Joe’s words, is how that life unfolded:
“I didn’t study floral design until I was going to do it. But I had the memory of flowers from being a little kid, because I grew up in a small town in Vermont, and all of the family houses had growing around them wild-looking tiger lilies, hydrangea plants, peonies. One of my aunts had lily of the valley growing all around her house.
My father had what you’d call a sundries store (in the town of Barre), where he sold non-prescription drugs, little items, and he had a lunch counter in the back. I was the soda jerk—emphasis on the jerk.
My mother took me to the doctor once, and said, ‘Why’s he tired all the time?’ And the doctor asked what I did. ‘Well, I go to school, and then I go to work. And then on Saturdays, I go to work. And Sundays, I go to the 6 o’clock mass so we can open the store.’ And the doctor said, ‘Madeline’—my mother’s name—’I think he’s working a little too much.’
And I always said I didn’t want that to be my life, to be tied to a retail store that’s not going to make you so much money and you put in so many work hours. But at my father’s 80th birthday, I said, ‘Well, dad. Here I am. I always said this wasn’t what I wanted to do, and this is what I’m doing. And thank you. I enjoy it. And know how to do it from watching you.’
Now that I’ve had this accident, I can’t really be the person who’s responsible for the buying, I’m just not back yet, but I go with Larry to the flower exchange sometimes just to look. I just think the beauty of flowers is something that’s soul-feeding. And since I’m not responsible for making the decisions, I can look at the ones that are $8 a stem and enjoy them while not having to worry, ‘Well, who’s going to buy this, because that’s $8 wholesale, and by the time we mark it up enough so that we’re not losing money, even though there’s a nice, wealthy population in Boston, it’s still a bit much.’
I was in the hospital for two months, and for a lot of that time, I really wasn’t even aware. I’ve been told I was in a lot of pain, I don’t remember it because I was so full of painkillers. Thank goodness I don’t remember it. Thank goodness the mind, evidently, edits out what it doesn’t want to deal with.
But when I did sort of come to, Larry and my sisters and the staff were sending over all the Get Well cards I got. It gave me a huge lift, just to get them. When I was doing home rehab, I went through all the cards, and ended up with three Whole Foods shopping bags FULL of them. One was labeled from family. One was labeled from friends. And one was labeled from everyone in Charlestown.
And I would say 99.9 percent said, “Sorry you’re not feeling well. You are in our daily thoughts and prayers.” And hasn’t that given me a return to look at that aspect of life that I might have put less emphasis on over the years. I’m thinking, ‘Okay, whatever that is, you need to figure out your relationship is to it. You could spend five minutes once a week sitting in a corner and thinking about your past relatives, or thinking about the world in general, and thanking the world that you’re here. And it could be God, the Father, The Son and the Holy Ghost. It could be Buddha. It could be, you know, Mohammed. It could be the powers that be.’
But the other thing I realized was how many people in Charlestown knew me. And thought enough of me to take the time—I don’t care if it was a card they got from CVS for 99 cents—to send their intention to me, put a stamp on it. It was like ‘It’s a Wonderful Life.’
It’s like, ‘Okay, you have a flower shop—you’re not a doctor (I had been in pre-med, I didn’t get into med school), you weren’t a lawyer, you weren’t a big politician. But whatever it is you do in this shop has touched people at some level enough for them to send you a card.’ I haven’t done it yet, but I am going to write a Thank You letter and put it in The (Charlestown Patriot) Bridge.”
Larry later joined the interview and told story ambassador Kathy Whitehouse one of Joe’s favorite stories:
Larry: “A couple of years ago, we got a call from a huge Yacht that was moored down at the Navy Yard temporarily. The people weren’t from here, and they said, ‘We’re going to be here for a while, and we’d like some flowers. And could you come down, and look at the boat, and give us recommendations?’ It was the kind of boat that has a dining table that seats 12 and four or five bedrooms.”
Joe: “The boat was half the size of Charlestown.”
Larry: “It was a huge yacht. So anyway, we agreed on a time, and we went down to the office at the Marina, and said, you know, we’re here for the specific yacht. And they said, ‘Oh, yeah, I’ll get somebody to take you out there, because it’s way out at the end of the dock.’
All the sudden, this kid shows up—I don’t know how old he was, could have easily been 18, 19 years old.”
Joe: “He was quite short and slight.”
Larry: “Yeah, he appeared younger than he was. I’d say he was probably about that age. And so he’s walking us down there, and he says, ‘So youse guys are from Bunker Hill Florist.’ And we said, ‘Yes.’ And he goes, ‘Well, I told him to call you because you sponsored my T ball team.’
All those years later.
Joe: “Youse guys.”
Larry: “Youse guys. Very nice kid. Very nice. I mean, it was an incredible yacht, and they did buy some flowers, but I said, ‘If they don’t buy a flower, that made it worthwhile right there.’”
Bunker Hill Florist is located at 211 Main St, Charlestown, MA 02129
Joe and Larry were interviewed and photographed by story ambassador Kathy Whitehouse.The interview was then transcribed and edited for length, clarity and flow by Cara Solomon, founder of Everyday Boston, in partnership with Kathy. Cara wrote the intro text.