GRASS VALLEY, Calif. October 16, 2016 – After 50 years the flower lady will have her day. The Grass Valley City Council will proclaim Friday, October 21“Marie Johnson, the flower lady day,” and the public is invited to a celebration from 4 – 7 pm at Foothill Flowers, the shop she founded at Main and Auburn streets five decades ago.
In 1966 Johnson, alone with three young children, started the shop by renting a brick Gold Rush-era building for $200 a month. “It was a lot in those days,” she said. But as Johnson was already an experienced floral designer, she thought she could succeed in a good location.
She drove her Volkswagen bus to the shop each day from a modest house in Cedar Ridge, worked on a picnic table and had only a small refrigerator for her flowers. Undaunted by a makeshift start, Johnson built Foothill Flowers into a leading downtown business.
Her children, who grew up in the business, walked to the shop after school. Then the brick building, which Johnson had purchased, was gutted by a fire in 1984. Johnson was determined to rebuild, and during the 11 months of rebuilding and remodeling, she continued her business in the basement of the Old Post Office on Auburn Street, crafting her floral designs again in makeshift conditions.
“The fire led to a transformation,” Johnson said. She eventually restored the building’s brick interior, saved the fir floors and added the shop’s oak stairway and balcony. In 2013 the California Heritage Council recognized the Foothill Flowers building as an outstanding example of historic preservation.
“In Foothill Flowers, we found a beautiful family business in a beautifully preserved building,” said the council’s chairman John Hodges. “The interior was replaced with great sensitivity,” Hodges continued, “and the shop’s black-and-cream striped canvas awning is period perfect.”
The Foothill Flowers building has been designated a local landmark and depicted in paintings, post cards and a Christmas ornament. The shop is distinguished by its sage green exterior and lively seasonal window displays. At Christmas the 30-foot tree, which rises from the center of the showroom floor to a second story skylight high above, reminds those who remember of the great trees in the old City of Paris in San Francisco.
In the 1990s Marie’s sons Mark and Todd Johnson joined the business. Mark oversees the operations while Todd, a gifted designer, served as president of the California association of Teleflora affiliates. Todd is also a longtime staff member of Fiesta Floats, which designs and decorates floats for the annual Rose Parade in Pasadena. At the October 21 event attention will focus on Marie Johnson, whose entrepreneurial gumption assured Foothill Flowers’ survival and success. Her shop has ranked among the top FTD and Teleflora affiliates in the nation and Johnson herself has been grand marshal of the local 4th of July parade. She has been active in Soroptomist Club and served on several community boards. Mark Johnson estimates his mother has contributed over the years more than $250,000 in flowers to charities and community organizations, especially to decorate tables at fund-raising banquets and events.
For half a century Foothill Flowers has delivered floral beauty to community and family events, to large gatherings and intimate occasions, and the evidence is in countless wedding and photograph albums on the shelves of Nevada County homes. Now at 85 Marie is in the shop as often as she can manage, working beside her designers or greeting customers. And said the woman long-known as the flower lady: “I still get excited about beautiful flowers.”