Flower seller wants to see business blossom again

2017-12-29 12:14
Glenda Bowman, one of the most familiar faces in the historic Trafalgar Place Flower Market. (Tammy Petersen/News24)

Glenda Bowman, one of the most familiar faces in the historic Trafalgar Place Flower Market. (Tammy Petersen/News24)

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Cape Town – Glenda Bowman was only eight years old when she started travelling from Grassy Park to the Cape Town city centre after school to help her mother at their flower stall on Adderley Street.

She could barely do her sums, but quickly learned the names of the different flowers and how to make basic bouquets while enticing potential customers to buy from their multi-coloured stock.

Almost 50 years later, Bowman is one of the most familiar faces in the historic Trafalgar Place Flower Market.

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She grew up to become a shrewd businesswoman who used her profits to put her two children through university.

"These flowers have been good to me," Bowman, 54, says, puffing on a cigarette while watching potential customers examine her bouquets.

Her grandfather started selling flowers "somewhere in the early 1900s", and he passed his business acumen on to Bowman's mother, aunt and uncle, who later took over the business.

They purchased their stock from farms in Philippi and Constantia, transported the flowers to the city centre and made smaller bunches for resale.

'Now it's just us few left'

"I was 17 years old – in Standard 9, as it was known those years – when I left school to come and work here full time. That was in the 1970s, and Adderley Street looked very different," Bowman recalls.

She points at the Standard Bank and Stuttafords buildings, which she remembers from when she was first put in charge of the family business.

"And there was plenty of parking for customers, not these bicycle lanes en al die kak (and all this shit)."

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The flower market was much bigger; 55 stalls, if she remembers correctly.

"Now it's just us few left. All the business we enjoyed those years is gone. Big shops like Woolworths now sell flowers too, and people can get it on credit. Hier by ons kan jy nie swipe nie (Here you can't swipe). And junk status, inflation en al daai stront (and all that nonsense) affects us too."

Years ago, R10 could get you "moerse (massive) bouquets", but those days are long gone.

"We don't make big profits, only a few rand here and there. But this is what I know – I do it because I love it," Bowman says.

Long hours

A discerning businesswoman, Bowman doesn't mind giving a discount or an extra flower or two to her less privileged customers.

"But I am not negligent. I must put a loaf of bread on the table."

A haggler tries to score a better deal with Bowman, who gives him a dirty look.

"Loop kak, man. Jy vat nou kanse (Get lost, man. You’re taking chances)," she tells him sternly.

He stops negotiating and settles for her original price.

Glenda Bowman has been trading at the historic Trafalgar Place Flower Market for almost 50 years. (Tammy Petersen/News24)

She leaves her Grassy Park home at 05:45 every morning, commuting by train to the market.

She does not have fixed business hours, staying as late as midnight if business looks good.

The local suppliers from whom her relatives bought their stock fled the country in 1994, "when Nelson Mandela and the ANC took over".

"They emigrated, along with a lot of my customers. Now I get my flowers from Johannesburg."

While this is expensive, she says, it is still the most cost effective way to run her business.

"Just for the box and to get it here costs me R105. Then I must still pay for the actual flowers," she explains.

Part of history

Her profit is small but, along with the income of her partner who held a casual job as a driver, it was enough to raise her son and daughter – now 30 and 35.

"I also sold clothes and food to pay for their studies. I used my head, not my naat (buttocks)," she cackles.

Her business has given her so much joy that she feels as if she has never worked a day in her life, Bowman says.

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"At times it's very stressful, yes. And I miss the people who used to work here, most of whom have died of old age. But this is a historic place – it's nice to be a part of it."

Bowman had hoped to retire next year, but says she will probably keep working until she's 60 "or when Zuma steps down" so that she can maintain a steady income.

"I like what I do. It's what I have been doing for years. Flowers are my business," she says.

"But I would like to see more people support us. Come buy here. We have the best prices and our bossies (bouquets) are arranged with love and passion."

Read more on:    cape town  |  entrepreneurs  |  good news

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