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  • Going to the Chapel


    When a bride walks down the aisle in Bakersfield, Calif., she might carry a bouquet designed by Apropos. And she might also celebrate her big day on the flower shop's premises. Apropos's unusual bridal business includes an official wedding chapel — complete with a 35-foot-long aisle and seating for up to 80 people.

    A local fixture for the past 16 years, Apropos enjoys spacious quarters within a late 1800s historical building in Bakersfield's business district. Space for a chapel already existed within the shop's 70-by-160 foot dimensions, but it took one employee with vision, Julian Garza, to picture a cluttered prop storage room transformed into a chapel of love.

    Garza created the chapel setting with simple elements. A trompe l'oeil garden mural spreads its greenery behind the minister's podium. Clear pillars allow floral arrangements to be displayed on high without obscuring the mural. The entrance area, bedecked with lattice, lights and greenery, welcomes guests and strengthens the sensation of walking into a garden. Antique furnishings within the chapel harmonize with the old-time feel of other parts of the shop.

    A Special Place for a Special Day

    The 40-by-80-foot chapel now represents several square feet of solid earnings in the books of Sharon Waldo, Apropos's new owner. As the business's former accountant, she ought to know. "Each wedding that takes place in our chapel brings us $200 to $250 in pure profit, in addition to whatever the flower arrangements run," explains Waldo. Non-flower-buying couples are welcome to rent the chapel for their ceremonies, too.

    Apropos books 45 to 50 weddings and renewal-of-vows celebrations each year in its chapel, Waldo reports. "We're open to ceremonies of all faiths," says Waldo, "But one minister officiates at most of the ceremonies. It happens that she is also an accomplished floral designer who works in a shop. We are fortunate to have access also to a Spanish-speaking minister" — a great advantage in an agricultural community like Bakersfield that's heavily populated with Hispanic people.

    Windows of Wedding Opportunity

    "Weddings make up 35 to 40 percent of our business," says Waldo. "And the business spreads primarily through word of mouth. Apropos has been in the same location for 16 years. That longevity has helped build a solid reputation. Brides notice our designs at other weddings and seek us out," she reports.

    Quality control also helps maintain Apropos's reputation: "We limit our wedding engagements to two per weekend so we can concentrate on consistently producing our best possible work," Waldo explains.

    "Plus, we look for highly visible places to publicize our designs," she continues. The lobby of the local playhouse displayed a large Apropos arrangement during the run of the popular historic play. Wedding fairs and the local department store provide other opportunities. "It's worth donating a $150 bridal bouquet for a heavily attended public event because so many potential customers will see your work," Waldo states.

    Apropos's large front-window displays set the stage for bridal fever, dramatizing what flowers can do for such standard bridal props as arches, columns and candelabras. Ivy- and cymbidium-entwined pillars and a bench and fountain beckon romantically to brides-to-be. Apropos rents out these props as well as decorating them.

    Stepping inside, customers will encounter a bridal department replete with centerpiece ideas, photos of shop designers' work, guest books, toasting glasses, bouquet holders and even garters. Other parts of the store, subtly sectioned off with lattice, include furnishings such as an armoire with a glassed-in front, an antique refrigerator (used as a display prop only), and dried flowers dangling decoratively from the pounded-brass-tile ceiling.

    Wilt-Proof Weddings

    Winter weddings might pose a difficult challenge for florists in other parts of the country, what with snow and ice and competition from holiday business. But for Waldo and her team of three designers, summer is the season when the weather takes its biggest toll on bridal flowers. Located in California's San Joaquin Valley, Bakersfield commonly experiences 100-degree-plus days from July through September. During that time, Waldo steers brides away from frailer blooms, especially for the reception flowers or for outdoor weddings. Instead, she encourages customers to look toward thicker-petaled wedding flowers, such as 'Casablanca' and 'Stargazer' lilies.

    A newly opened wholesale house in Bakersfiled (an outlet of Mayesh Flower Shippers) makes all the difference, too, says Waldo. "Now I can get fresh flowers daily, which makes it so much easier and more economical to plan weddings in the heat."

    When all else fails, silks offer an alternative for wilt-proof weddings. "The choices among silks are really improving," she notes. "Because our silk arrangements start at $55, we only carry high-quality product that I've personally purchased from a sales representative. Silks can be handy and affordable for decorating wedding props such as candelabras."

    Themes Come True

    This fall, Apropos designers were busy getting ready for an unusual wedding with a medieval motif. Bridal attendants wore wench costumes and carried bouquets with an English wildflower look, Waldo recounts: "More uncommon components for the bouquet, such as lily-of-the-valley and heather, were ordered at least three months in advance to ensure they'd be available in October."

    Normally, Bakersfield couples opt for more traditional colors and themes, according to Waldo, but since this is ranch country, the cowboy wedding rates as one of the more popular requests. "Bales of hay stand in for pews at a country wedding. Brides garbed in western wedding dresses, grooms in boots and hats, and bridesmaids decked out in denim calls for a natural look, which is one of our specialties," she notes. "We've arranged reception centerpieces in pails and watering cans and have done casual-looking boutonnieres and corsages with black-eyed Susans. To suggest wild grasslands, we use dried wheat with wide raffia bows. Sunflower topiaries are another typical fixture in our western-themed weddings."

    Not Just Another Pretty Vase

    The same attention to details sets Apropos apart in non-wedding work. "For example, we make a specialty of nature-inspired trimmings such as curly willow and mushroom birds," says Waldo. "It's our working motto that every vase going out of here is an original design with a little something extra — not only in the design itself but also with the embellishments," she proudly claims.

    Couples who have wedded with the help of Apropos, its floral designs and its chapel would heartily agree: That little something extra makes all the difference.

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