Monti King bent down and extended her hand to put Todd at ease. The 4-year-old Chihuahua stood at the door and stared back at his owner, his paws scratching the door frame.
“He’s telling us, ‘It’s time to go home,'” King said of Todd, giggling.
Todd was looking forward to the closing hour Wednesday of Flowers by the Bunch, a Starkville floral shop King and her husband, Jason, have owned for 15 years. The couple started the business together out of a storefront on Jackson Street, Monti said, which had been a 25-year balloon shop named “Balloons by Chi Chi.”
At the time, she said, her youngest son, Micah, was only six weeks old.
“He came to the flower shop with us,” Monti said.
Three years later, the Kings moved their business to where it is right now — a yellow house on the hill on Louisville Street near its intersection with Highway 12. Until the couple bought it, the house used to be her sons’ day care, Monti said.
It is out of that very yellow house where Monti designs floral arrangements for weddings, birthdays, funerals and holidays and hands them to Jason for delivery. Compared to a common gift shop, Monti said the house is reclusive — but sufficient. The room facing west is now a makeshift workshop. What used to be a bedroom is now a walk-in cooler, where Monti stores fresh flowers she orders weekly from Miami.
“We are kind of secluded, but it’s worked perfectly for our business model,” Monti said.
Nurturing: From children to flowers
Monti found floral design unexpectedly. Diagnosed with dyslexia at the age of 5, she dreamed of becoming a special education teacher for children with learning disabilities — a dream born out of her own struggle.
“Anything to do with learning was hard,” Monti said.
Monti remembers asking her seventh grade teacher to explain the solution to an algebra problem. The teacher, however, told her to pay attention.
“She pointed her finger and she said, ‘Monti, I’ve gone over that problem three times. You should have listened,'” Monti said. “After class, I went up to her and I said … ‘I have dyslexia and it doesn’t always come easy. I promise I was listening. Could you go over it one more time?'”
The confidence to confront her teacher, Monti said, came from her mother, Frankie Winston, who cheered her on, studied with her and told her she was capable of success. That was something she hoped to pass onto her students and kids, she said.
“She always taught me: ‘You are not dumb, you are not stupid. You are capable of doing anything you want to do,'” she said.
But Winston was also worried Monti would burn out from being a teacher. She encouraged Monti to take floral design classes when she was attending Mississippi State University, where she eventually earned a bachelor’s degree in floral design in 1999.
“(Mom) just thought it would be something that I’d really enjoy, not knowing that that would be what I’d go into,” Monti said.
The floral shop now allows her to deliver joy to others while receiving some in return, she said.
“Every single day is different. You don’t know whose birthday it might be. You don’t know (if it’s) an anniversary. You don’t know whether babies are going to be born or cemetery pieces need to be made,” she said. “That’s the best part of this job.”
Dedicated to her business, Monti said her aim is not to sell fancy gifts but to offer quality customer service.
“We may not be the fanciest flower shop, and we don’t have the fanciest things in here,” she said. “Our main goal is to take care of our customers and make our customers feel like they are loved.”
Over the years, the shop has attracted many regulars, she said. A woman from Texas orders arrangements for her parents’ grave two or three times a year. Another woman visits the store every Friday to pick up flowers for her husband’s grave.
Monti remembers all their names.
“They’ve always called, ‘Monti, you know what I need,'” she said. “It’s nice to be able to have people who can depend on you. It’s family.”
Yue Stella Yu was previously a reporter for The Dispatch.