HEBER CITY, Utah — Like U.S. supermarkets everywhere, Days Market here draws a lot of traffic in the week leading up to Memorial Day from shoppers planning their first big weekend of the summer.
“We're situated between two reservoirs, and there are just tons of fishing cabins all along,” Steven Day, co-owner and vice president of the two-unit independent, toldSN. “So on that weekend, people are picking up food and supplies. They're going camping, fishing, having picnics, barbecuing.”
But in this area, before they head off to enjoy their vacations, many locals find ways to honor deceased friends and relatives at the Heber City Cemetery. The cemetery becomes as heavily trafficked as local resort roads during the weekend, and it's carpeted with flowers by Monday.
Days Market rings up huge floral sales — second only to those at Valentine's Day — on Memorial Day weekend. Indeed, last year on the two days preceding the Memorial Day holiday, floral made up 8.7% of total store sales, a percentage that becomes even more significant when one considers that Memorial Day weekend pushes the entire store's sales way up, Day pointed out.
“We sell an awful lot of the sprays and wreaths and other arrangements people take to the cemetery,” Day said.
As people do in many parts of the country, the cemetery's visitors decorate the graves of their loved ones with flowers. But here in Heber City, the holiday has taken on a special significance.
The 43,000-square-foot store's floral manager, Ann Mair, said it's a tradition here that people do not miss going to the cemetery, no matter what, on Memorial Day weekend.
“It's a big thing. People gather at the cemetery.”
“Some people plan their family reunions for that weekend. Everybody goes to the cemetery with flowers, and then they walk around, reading headstones and looking at arrangements on all the other graves,” Mair said.
While the area is heavily populated with Mormons, Mair said that the local observance isn't associated with any particular religion, nor with any particular ethnic group.
“It's just been done here for as long as I can remember. It's a local custom,” Mair said.
In fact, she said she has family in a town not very far away, and Memorial Day is big there, but not as big as here.
“Maybe 40% or 50% of graves there will be decorated. Here in Heber City, it's over 90%, I'd say, at least in the newer sections.”
For Days, the Saturday before Memorial Day is the busiest day in floral, and Mair gets ready by having six or seven associates on hand to help customers pick up their floral orders and to create spur-of-the-moment arrangements.
Most people pick up their flowers Saturday, in an effort to avoid getting stuck in a traffic jam at the cemetery, Mair said.
“On Sunday and Monday, the cemetery is packed. You can't get up the roads in a car. People have to walk in with their flowers.”
Mark Rounds, the sexton at 15-acre Heber City Cemetery, seconded that.
“A lot of people park outside and walk in with their arrangements. There's a church across the street, and its parking lot gets pretty full.”
Inside the cemetery, cars can be bumper-to-bumper at times.
”My guess is that we have at least 300 to 400 cars a day. Some people come as early as Thursday morning, but the bulk of traffic comes Saturday, and it continues right through Monday,” Rounds told SN.
“There are sections of the cemetery where you can hardly see the ground. Sometimes, if there's an undecorated grave, other people — strangers — will put a spray down.”
Rounds said traffic keeps up the whole week following Memorial Day.
“People come to look at the flowers. We'll get maybe 100 to 300 cars a day that week.”
At Days, even before the first of May, Mair had 40 orders for Memorial Day weekend. Prices range from $30 up to $200, but the most popular is a $40 vase of five gladioli, three football mums or four spider mums, and five carnations or five daisies.
“We have to have a ‘recipe’ like that in order to speed things up and make it less labor-intensive. We get the pots [papier mâché vases] ready ahead of time. We're already doing that,” Mair told SN during the first week in May.
“We fill them with vermiculite, then a block of Oasis [green foam that holds water and keeps stems steady]. Then, on top of that, we place a square of chicken wire to keep everything steady.”
The six-inch pots are then put in the storage area until Memorial Day weekend.
Last year, Mair sold 340 pots at a retail of $40 and up. Some people buy extra stems to add to the basic $40 “recipe.” For instance, they might buy three football mums at $3 each to add to the pot, Mair said.
“We also sold a lot of flat sprays and easel sprays, from $100 to $200. Colors are chosen by whether the arrangement is for a man's or a woman's grave site. For a woman, we use a lot of pink, white and yellow. For a man, we'd have maybe red, purple and orange, with some white.” This year, Mair expects sales to be up over the same period last year, because each year has yielded more sales than the last for at least the past five years, she said.
Most flowers are ordered ahead, but Mair and her team will also create arrangements on the spot.
In fact, to get customers' attention, Mair fills two or three tables with colorful mums planted in pots and puts them right up at the front of the store, where they can't be missed.
“They get people thinking about flowers, that maybe they should get a spray, and that brings them into the floral department. Those mums are a bargain, too. With a retail of three of them for $11, we only make about 30 cents. It's worth it, because they're a good draw.”
The potted mums arrive on a refrigerated trailer a week before Memorial Day, and Mair gets some out on display as fast as she can, she said. She then uses the trailer as a storage unit for the papier mâché pots of flowers, flat sprays and easel sprays that will get picked up Memorial Day weekend.
Throughout the year, Days' floral department does a lot of business for funerals, especially with blankets of flowers for the tops of caskets. The custom-designed casket pieces are designed, with the help of the person's family, to reflect the deceased's interests or hobbies.
“We did one [blanket of flowers] recently with miniature cars in it, because the man who had died loved cars,” Mair said.
“If a woman liked to knit, we might work in skeins of yarn and knitting needles among the flowers.”
Fishing tackle, cowboy boots, nurse's caps, Dutch ovens and huge stuffed Mickey Mouses are among items Days has incorporated in casket floral pieces.
Such elaborate blankets of flowers range in retail price from $200 to $400; the more expensive ones are often made up mostly, or entirely, of premium roses.
Meanwhile, weddings will bring some big floral business to Days, and homecoming at the local high school is the next big community event for the floral department. There's a dance after the homecoming football game in September, and Days associates will be busy making up hundreds of wrist corsages and boutonnieres, Mair said.
Steven Day told SN that Days, in both its stores, has always concentrated on growing its floral business.