G eraldine Cullinan knows her flowers. She knows the delicate orchids, the hearty succulents and the colorful tulips, too.
It’s an important reason why Cullinan’s flower shop, “Geraldine, a florist,” has passed New Haven’s smell test for over 30 years, first on Church Street and, for the past ten, on upper Chapel.
Before all that, Cullinan, with a master’s degree in art education, found herself teaching art in public school. But “it just didn’t suit me,” she says, remarking that she loved working with children but not everything else that came with the educator’s life.
She left that classroom for another, enrolling in flower-arranging courses at Quinnipiac University. From there, she took her first job in the field, literally, at a large outfitter where plants and flowers were grown. That job taught her about the flower business, she says, and gave her the confidence to open her own shop.
Geraldine’s flowers make New Haven’s weddings more joyous; its funerals more comforting and even, maybe, uplifting; its graduations and starring performances all the more celebratory. They mark special occasions or “just-because” occasions, bringing New Haveners closer together.
Cullinan, in addition to a delightfully dry sense of humor (the perfect accessory for the stories she shares, including wedding fiasco tales), has the hard-nosed outlook of an entrepreneur. “You have to realize that it’s not just what you want to do; there’s all this other stuff that has to happen.” That’s her advice to young go-getters anxious to start their own businesses, and she’s referring to the less glamorous aspects of life among the lilies: bills, rent and paperwork.
Cullinan muddled through what she says were “stressful” early days, coming out on the other side to keep a shop that serves needs large and small, where customers not only pick up a gorgeous bouquet but also linger just to savor the tropical flower selection or the vintage treasures displayed throughout.
Indeed, it’s one of those places where browsing is every bit as enjoyable as buying. There are the flowers, of course—always easy on the senses—and then there’s the less expected vintage collection, which includes tea sets, patterned aprons, brooches and Pyrex dishes just like the ones your grandma used.
“I just buy stuff I like,” Cullinan says of the items on display, remarking she clears the tables to make way for bouquets around flower-centric holidays, when the need is greatest. Undergrads to Granddads will be stopping in soon to pick something up for Valentine’s Day, no doubt.
But the Geraldine experience isn’t all roses—in a good way. The shop would make a great setting for an ensemble-cast sitcom; characters who wander in—including Cullinan’s husband, who’s hanging old wedding photos along one wall for a nuptial-themed display—are greeted heartily by Sophie, a three-year-old Golden Retriever, before launching into witty banter with Cullinan and her longtime flower stylist, Kim Onofrio.
Before my character exits the studio stage, I ask the question on many a flower-buyer’s mind: What’s the best way to care for them once you’ve brought some home?
Cullinan says to give them a fresh cut, at an angle, with a knife—never scissors, which can pinch the capillaries in the stem—then place them in fresh water (not too cold.) After a few days, repeat the process. They’ll endure for longer, and Cullinan certainly knows something about that.
Geraldine, a florist
1207 Chapel St, New Haven (map)
Tues-Fri 9am-5pm, Sat 9am-12pm, Mon “by chance”
Written and photographed by Cara McDonough.