Cook Florist celebrates 75 years

6 years ago

PRESQUE ISLE, Maine — When Sidney and Edna Cook opened Cook Florist on Main Street in Presque Isle on Oct. 1, 1943, the Presque Isle Air Force Base brought numerous individuals to Aroostook County and local businesses thrived in the region. Sidney Cook already owned a gas station, which included a bike rental shop, that had many soldiers from the Air Force base as customers.

The Cooks had always enjoyed growing and cutting flowers and after a while people began asking them to make floral arrangements for special occasions. The couple realized that they could create a great business out of that community need and so one year Edna Cook attended the Gorney School of Floral Art in Boston. She and her husband opened Cook Florist not long afterward.

Today the Cooks’ granddaughter Karen Duncan is the third-generation owner of the flower shop.

Karen Duncan (left), owner of Cook Florist in Presque Isle, cuts flowers for a floral arrangement with employee Kathy Swanson on Friday, March 9. Duncan became the third-generation owner of her family’s business in 1994. Her grandparents, Sidney and Edna Cook, opened the flower shop on Oct. 1, 1943, and this year marks the shop’s 75 anniversary.
(Staff Photo/Melissa Lizotte)

“My grandparents were smart business people. When my grandfather noticed an increase in people who wanted cut flowers, he sent his wife, Edna, to school in Boston and that’s where she learned to design and learned more about business,” Duncan said.

During their lifetime, the Cooks were involved in many community service efforts and organizations. Though her grandfather died when she was 2 months old, Duncan has heard stories of how how he helped start the Presque Isle Country Club, was a firefighter and served as a sports broadcaster for the Aroostook Broadcasting System.

Edna Cook taught piano lessons at her home and was a hostess for the United Service Organizations during World War II. Duncan remembers that her grandmother used to bring handmade pillows to children who were patients at the A.R. Gould Hospital.

“Every few days she would go to the hospital and drop off a pillow,” Duncan said. “I walked into a friend’s house one day and one of her pillows was on his shelf. He had his appendix out when he was 9 or 10 years old and he still had the pillow to this day.”

Duncan’s mother, Margaret Cook Duncan, owned and operated Cook Florist for 45 years along with her husband Donald Duncan. While Duncan was growing up she enjoyed being around the family business but always said that she would never want to run the flower shop. She didn’t change her mind until a particularly difficult time in her life.

“I was 19 and I found myself unemployed and unable to pay my rent. I asked my mother for a job at the flower shop and never looked back,” Duncan said. She took over the business in 1994.

Duncan now works with five employees, including her daughter Megan Soucier, and loves creating different flower arrangements every day for occasions such as weddings, birthdays, graduations and seasonal holidays. Her greatest reward is getting to know many longtime customers and employees, whom she credits for supporting the shop through three generations.

Although the official anniversary of the business will be Oct. 1, Duncan and her employees have decided to officially celebrate the milestone this summer and are still thinking of ideas. In the meantime, Duncan said she plans to keep working for the next 10 years, after which her daughter will carry the family business into the fourth generation.

“I remember learning in business school that only 15 percent of family businesses make it to the fourth generation, so I’m pleased that we’re in that 15 percent,” Duncan said.

As for the possibility of one or both of Duncan’s two grandchildren becoming the fifth-generation entrepreneurs, the family will have to wait awhile to see if that becomes reality.

“I’m not sure if either of them would be interested, considering they’re both under 2 years old right now,” Duncan said, laughing. “But hopefully there’s a fifth generation in there.”