2007-04-19 / News

No secret to success of island garden shop

Tenth anniversary this weekend
By Donna K. Drago

Many in Jamestown think about the "three sisters," as being the three stately Victorian houses that have faced east to Newport for more than 100 years. A lot younger, and no less important to the island are the three sisters who cheerfully come to work each day at the Secret Garden- a business that will celebrate its 10th anniversary this Saturday, April 21.

Helenna Livernois of Charlestown, Heidi Lessard, of South Kingstown and Holly Howard of Exeter are the sisters who endeavored to begin a business in 1997, having never worked together before. Holly, who has run Our Kids Farm nursery in Exeter for some 24 years, saw the opportunity as a good way to get a retail space to sell her plants. Helenna was already a certified florist and Heidi, a former teacher, had managerial and clerical skills she thought she could add to the business part time.

"Well, part time turned to about 60 hours a week," Heidi laughed.

The first day as owners of the Secret Garden Heidi said, "We turned the key and walked in," but realized that when the first customer came in "we didn't even know how to run the cash register."

"And that was two weeks before Mother's Day," she added, noting the next weeks were rather hectic.

It's been a learning experience all along the way for all of them who have stepped into their own distinct roles, but have helped each other out when needed.

The shop is cheerful, feminine and whimsical at all times of the year, a cozy place to poke around and admire the aroma of fresh blooms. On this cold April day it was full of painted birdhouses, garden gifts and houseplants. A tank was bubbling in the corner, full of fat koi fish waiting to be put back into their pond outside.

Alcina Blair, a neighbor, walked in with a sickly plant and asked the sisters to take a look.

"Hmmmm . . . .," Helenna considered for a moment and then gave her diagnosis as "wet feet." The other sisters took a look and Heidi asked about the plant's light conditions at home. Blair said that her African violets were looking fabulous and Heidi suggested "put the plant next to the African violets."

"We get a lot of that," Heidi said later about customers who just come in to ask advice, visit, chat and look around. "We have 'the Sunday ladies'," who take a regular Sunday drive from their home in Smithfield. "Then there's the lily guy," Helenna said about another regular.

"Our customers are very loyal," Helenna said. Heidi added that "Jamestown has adopted us." While the sisters don't live in Jamestown now, each has life-long friends from Jamestown, having attended North Kingstown High School. Both Helenna and Holly lived on the island for periods of their lives.

The sisters spoke about their biggest accomplishments in the past 10 years.

Holly said "We made the shop into much more than we envisioned." Heidi, getting sentimental, said, "We've been able to do everything as a family." She noted that all their children, stepchildren, siblings and husbands have, at one time or another, done deliveries and helped out on busy holidays. Helenna said "it's been a privilege" to know families and be asked to provide flowers for everything from births to funerals.

"The very last thing you can do for someone is the flowers at their funeral," Helenna said, adding "We know what they like."

The sisters said that they have always had fantastic part-time help, in addition to their family members. Tanya Crowley, Mary Beth Burnham and Rachel Flowers are three who currently work in the shop.

While there won't be any major changes at the shop in the future, the sisters are planning to put a "self-potting" area in the garage so customers can put together their own containers and hanging baskets without messing up their own houses.

On Saturday, the 10th anniversary open house will include refreshments, gifts to every customer and coupons for discounts in the future.

"We want to thank everyone for being part of the Secret Garden family," the sisters said.

The open house runs from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. The Secret Garden is located at 12 Southwest Ave. Call 423-0050.

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