Sara Dahlke remembers that as a child, she would walk to downtown Waterloo and all of the stores were occupied by businesses. The number of shops has since decreased since then, but the lifelong resident decided to fill some of those empty buildings.
Dahlke officially opened Waterloo Blooms, 119 N. Monroe St., for weekends only starting Dec. 14 and, after the final day of her former full-time job, the flower and gift shop began weekday hours Feb. 6. She appreciates the patience of the community while she’s tried to establish regular hours.
“I got tired of searching around for flower shops,” she said about her decision to open Waterloo Blooms. “Waterloo needed something. I wanted to do this as more of a service to the community and help the community out. … And I’ve always enjoyed being around flowers and plants and gifts.”
The idea of opening a flower and gift store had been on Dahlke’s mind for the last few years. The plan became serious in June 2019 as she started looking at some of the vacant downtown buildings. A for rent sign was posted in the building and the process of creating Waterloo Blooms moved from an idea to a reality.
“I wanted to be right downtown in Waterloo,” Dahlke said. “I want to stay here in my hometown.”
As a flower shop, there are some plants available for same-day purchase; for customers who place an order, Dahlke works with two suppliers – one in Madison and one in Milwaukee — to ensure the freshest selections.
Like other floral stores, she also carries vases, balloons and Hallmark greeting cards.
One of the important aspects of opening the store was having a venue for local artisans to sell their hand-crafted products, she said.
“There’s so much talent in Waterloo and in Marshall,” Dahlke added. “We’re a small community and we should look out for each other and help each other in any way we can.”
Half of the building is dedicated to flowers and gifts; the other side, which is still under development, will be a hybrid ice cream and candy shop with tables and chairs.
“We want a place where people can just gather downtown and hang out,” she said.
The space has a nostalgic feel, with glass jugs that once contained soda lining the wall and vintage equipment set about the room. The type of candy even reminds customers of days-gone-by featuring rock candy, wax fangs, jumbo Pixy Stix, jellybeans, and various styles of hard candy sticks.
“One of my favorite things is kids coming down here on the weekends and saying ‘Jelly Bellys,” Dahlke said. “It’s been great for the older generation to come in and say ‘I remember that. I haven’t seen one of these in years.’ To hear their stories and their memories when they look at what’s down here is just amazing.”
“The response from the community has been wonderful,” she said. “I have a great support system here.”
Among Dahlke’s supporters are her family, who still reside in Waterloo, and former florists who were located downtown Waterloo.
“My mom comes in every weekend and helps me water everything,” she said. “The neighbor (in a nearby building) comes by and helps me sometimes.”
Since opening the store, Dahlke has seen many locals who she hasn’t seen in years.
In the two months she’s had store hours, Dahlke has seen a lot of foot traffic in her store.
“It’s been a learning curve,” she said. “But when someone places an order, I do the small-town business happy dance. I can’t put into words how great it’s been.”