When Amy Cilmi first walked into Hayfields nearly two years ago hoping to supply the garden center-café hybrid with fresh cut flowers, she had no idea the partnership that would bloom.
It’s hard to imagine Hayfields, the community hub coffee destination that emerged from the ashes of a gas station on Bloomer Road, now without Cilmi’s presence as its resident florist ready to create behind the flower bar.
The North Salem resident took up floral design as a second career, bringing her back to her roots as a graduate student pursuing an arts degree, but she deviated from the arts when upon graduation she was scooped up first by the corporate world.
“I somehow got a job with Citibank in marketing,” Cilmi said. “I worked in financial services and I did that for many, many years. I had three children and after the third was four months old I decided to stop working … and then I started doing volunteering with the Gardening Club of America.”
She took a leadership position with the Rusticus Garden Club, a member of the Garden Club of America, where she served as its president for many years.
Then, five years ago, with her kids becoming teens, she mentioned to her husband John that it might be time to go back to work.
“We were on a vacation and I said, maybe I need to go back to work in financial services and he said, ‘Really, I understand what you’re saying, but why don’t you try to find something you love to do,’ which was really great because it shifted my focus,” Cilmi said. “Do you go back to what you’re used to or do something that you love?”
Cilmi decided to e-mail British floral designer Paula Pryke about taking one of her courses, who at first replied she was done teaching.
“Then I got this random e-mail and it said ‘I decided to start teaching again’ and my husband said ‘book it, we’ll worry about the details later,’” Cilmi recounted.
She flew to Islington, London, to be trained with Pryke in floral design and then took a part-time gig at a florist in Connecticut to see if it would be a career she could stick with. With the training under her belt and experience in the retail side, she ventured into Hayfields.
“I had never met (Hayfields owner) Renea (Dayton) before and I said, ‘Hi, my name is Amy, would you be interested in selling flowers here?’ She said, ‘Sure, when?’” Cilmi said.
Together, they conceived of the flower bar—a real bar at the opposite end from the coffee—where Cilmi works with customers on whatever their flower needs.
Though Cilmi at first only envisioned selling cut flowers, her presence has blossomed with the flower bar into providing the flowers for special events, weddings, funerals, home decorations, dinner centerpieces, and for the high schoolers during prom season.
“It just kind of snowballed into every week calls for cut flowers, and that’s when we decided to add the flower bar,” Dayton said. “We decided it was worthy of making a strong presence at the store and it’s proven to be really successful.”
Cilmi orders her flowers wholesale from Norwalk, Conn., where she’s developed relationships that have guided her flower choices and how she conditions her flowers to last.
“She has a level of creativity and knowledge and uniqueness that I think meshes well with our brand and vibe,” Dayton said. “It’s not like she just decided, oh, I like flowers, let me do something. She really honed her craft. She listens to what the customers want, but she teachers the customers too.”
Dayton said Cilmi has the ability to “turn something mediocre into something gorgeous,” and it’s that attention to detail and quality that made it a good fit for Hayfields.
“It’s a customer service level that goes above and beyond,” Dayton said.
With the flower bar, Hayfields moved away from flowers you plant to selling flowers and plants ready to go in unique vessels.
“We’ve shifted away from a place to get annuals and garden tools to, this is a place to relax, have something to eat, get gifts, and easy grab-and-go things,” Cilmi said.
Even the employees have made the transition. The baristas pitched in during prom season to keep up with the orders and learn from Cilmi how to prepare a bouquet.
Valentine’s Day marked the one-year anniversary of the shop and Cilmi is happy to now be known as the “flower girl” in North Salem.
“I would say our vision is to continue having an amazing vibe that’s comfortable and community focused,” Cilmi said. “We just want to continue to provide a great place to go for the community.”