Local florist has rosy disposition on holiday

By Jim Vorel

A sleek, brown cat slips among the exotic foliage, padding along silently on soft paws. His eyes rove around, taking in his surroundings. They are hunter’s eyes. His name is Trouble, and he is seeking the mischief his moniker would imply.

Trouble’s most likely form of mischief, however, is likely to be a broken vase. He lives, along with another cat named Stevie Jay, in the Campus Florist at 609 E. Green St. in Champaign.

There, the cat’s owner and founder of Campus Florist, Anne Johnston, does her best to minimize the feisty feline’s damage, while running a business during the busiest season of her calendar year: Valentine’s Day.

Johnston founded the Campus Florist in 1941, making it the longest operating flower shop on campus.

She had originally been a student of Psychology and English at the University, but she never graduated, instead choosing to open her own flower shop in town, where she has been ever since.

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“I just enjoyed my floriculture classes so much, I decided to make it my livelihood,” Johnston said.

“My floriculture professor told my mother that I should drop the class, and when she asked why, he said it was because I was already ten years ahead of it.”

Johnston’s passion for flowers, however, was no surprise to her.

Her mother owned two flower shops in Chicago, and Johnston has been exposed to them every day for as long as she can remember.

“I was practically raised in a flower shop,” Johnston said.

However, no amount of fondness for her work could prepare Johnston for the rigors of the Valentine’s Day rush.

“Hell, it gets extremely busy, and the weather doesn’t always help,” Johnston said.

“Last year it was a real blowout, but we still got our orders out. This year we’ve been taking orders for the last six weeks for Valentine’s Day, and it will stay busy until the day after, when people who forgot the flowers they were supposed to get show up.”

Johnston added that even after all her years in the business, she still has only one flower in mind that should be given as the perfect Valentine’s Day gift.

“Red roses,” Johnston said. “They are classics. They are always beautiful.”

In fact, Valentine’s Day is busy enough for Johnston and her store to hire temporary work, just to handle the demand. Johnston said the store does its best to fill all orders, regardless of how last-minute they may be.

And the cats?

They showed up a dozen years apart.

Stevie Jay is 15 years old and came from Johnston’s farm.

He spends most of his time asleep in his basket on the front counter.

Trouble, on the other hand, is three years old and spends most of his time being a nuisance.

“He lives up to his name, I can tell you that,” Johnston said. “He’ll jump on anything and everything, knocks things over, tries his best to break things, that little devil.”

Both cats live exclusively in the shop, and are cared for by Johnston and other store employees.

Alison Hebrank, senior in LAS, has worked at Campus Florist for over a year, and says she doesn’t mind the cats, though someone with allergies might want to think twice before applying.

She was attracted to the store by the prospect of working with growing things.

“I love being around flowers,” Hebrank said.

“I’ve worked in a greenhouse before, and I just love gardening and arranging the flowers, so it’s a good job.”

Hebrank also said the two Valentine’s Days that she has seen while working at the store are incredibly hectic.

“Oh my gosh, Valentine’s Day is so crazy,” she said.

“We have so many more flowers and so many more customers, and most of them will still be coming the day before or on Valentine’s Day itself to try and get flowers.”

At least some students are able to beat the Valentine’s Day rush. Thibaud Smerko, sophomore in LAS, said he didn’t like commercial holidays like Valentine’s Day, but that he was buying some lilies for his girlfriend for their three month anniversary. He also liked the atmosphere of the store.

“I like the cats, it really makes it seem homey in here,” Smerko said. “I don’t know much about flowers, but it’s beautiful.”