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Woodlane Flowers changes with the city

Gail Anderson (left) and his children Wade and Jodie, have been in the flower business since Plants Plus, the predecessor to Woodlane Flowers, started in their garage. (Bulletin photo by Mathias Baden)1 / 3
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Woodlane Flowers started with a man and his sample gifts.

A 3M product designer and hobby horticulturist in the 1960s and '70s, Gail Anderson planted two small flowers in a basket with 3 inches of potting soil in a Woodbury garage and peddled his wares at Twin Cities hospital gift shops. They sold like wildfire, "and then I had a route," Anderson said. The purchases gave him the confidence and the funds to expand to Woodlane Shopping Center.

On Sept. 5, 1978, the day after Labor Day, Woodlane Flowers opened in the city's first shopping center, located along Woodane Drive, near the intersection of Valley Creek Road and Interstate 494. When Woodlane Flowers opened, it was the only flower shop in Woodbury. There were no gift shops at the time, either.

"It really was born in a garage as many businesses are," Anderson said with a laugh, "and it grew to just about every hospital in the Twin Cities. (In Woodbury) Woodlane Shopping Center was the only place you could buy anything.

"I just had an idea that one day let's put this thing together."

Anderson's son, Wade, said: "It's a classic American story that you just try this in a garage and then maybe it works and maybe it doesn't."

Prior to opening his own store, Plants Plus, as the garage business was known, sold Anderson's plants at the drugstore at the shopping center.

"The Freshest" was Woodlane Flowers' motto when its storefront opened.

From May to September, local farmers provide peonies, lilacs, sunflowers, zinnias, hydrangeas, branches and berries, all kinds of garden flowers. When in season, gladiolas are purchased from a grower in Woodbury.

"We've done our best to cultivate and support our growers," Wade said.

Wade and his sister, Jodie, have been involved since day one in the garage, they said. Wade delivered flowers during his college years, and he and Jodie are both floral designers at the shop.

In 2005, Wade represented the business among 200 floral designers who helped President George W. Bush celebrate the inauguration after Bush's re-election.

Woodlane Flowers has long provided flowers for high school graduation ceremonies, and its owners boast of making more than 10,000 prom corsages and boutonnieres in the business' 38-plus years in the same location.

"It's become home," Anderson said.

It's not possible to count the number of people Woodlane Flowers has employed over the years, but the number is in the hundreds, Wade said. The business typically keeps about a dozen people on staff at a time—from people supporting a family, to young and capable students learning how to work their first job.

Duane Wait has been a valued transportation manager for more than 22 years. The flower shop delivers throughout the Twin Cities. Wait's job is easier now, with GPS, than when he used to keep a mapbook handy.

Woodlane Flowers began during a time when local businesses gladly paid their taxes and supported each other, and the tradition continues today. It's not lost on the owners that residents don't have to buy their flowers from the locally owned shop, Wade said. "Our job is to continue to earn their trust and commitment, seven days a week."

Woodlane Flowers no longer has a monopoly on the local flower business, but having growth and competition is a good thing, Wade said. "There's more people. There's more opportunity."

Anderson added: "It's a city full of life."

The shop has undergone three renovations during its time in Woodbury, to remain current and with a plan to regularly reinvest in the business Anderson hopes to hand off to his kids.

Walk into the shop along Woodlane Drive and you'll be met by a delectable display counter full of chocolates. Greeting cards serve as a wall-to-wall backdrop on one side of the brightly covered store. And fresh flowers and plants, the primary driver of the business, grace the showroom floor.

The gift business has changed, but Woodlane Flowers remains focused on what it does best—selling and delivering flowers.

Via the business' website, flowers can be ordered 24-7, much different than the business of the '80s and before that.

"The online store is really an area of growth for us," Anderson said.

The role of the business in people's lives remains unchanged. People who express their emotions with flowers can send messages of sympathy, love, friendship, respect just the same as they've done throughout history.

"The availability and freshness of a global product continues to improve," Wade said. "We're still there for sympathy expressions, prom corsages, and important moments in people's lives."