Heather Chernecki, affectionately known as the “Rose Lady” or “Flower Lady” and a local late-night legend, has been selling roses to blurry-eyed romantics in Kamloops for more than three decades.
Dressed in a long gown, she walks bar to bar downtown, selling individually, hand-wrapped long-stem roses to lovers, losers and wooers.
The pandemic, however, has wilted her wages. Chernecki’s last night selling roses was into the wee hours of March 15 — the Ides of March, which is said to be unlucky, if you believe William Shakespeare.
It most certainly was for Chernecki. The world subsequently shut down. Gatherings were cancelled. Bars closed. And the late-night rose biz was rendered more hopeless than a lonely soul taking a lap around the Blue Grotto at closing time. Thankfully, Chernecki had not yet purchased from Costco dozens and dozens of roses she would usually sell on St. Patrick’s Day.
She’d still be selling this weekend, if she could.
“I would be, if it was all open,” Chernecki said, unsure at the tail end of her career whether bars will reopen in time for her to again sell flowers. “I certainly miss it.”
Six months later, British Columbia is largely open for business, but nightclubs remain shuttered by provincial health orders to halt spread of the novel coronavirus. Restrictions have wiped out not only Chernecki’s work, but also that of bouncers, bartenders, coat checkers, DJs, bands and more. Chernecki feels for owners who had been trying to adapt when the most recent ban on nightclubs was ordered.
“Those guys have invested so much,” she said. “Time, money, blood, sweat and tears into everything.”
KTW caught up with Chernecki on her home turf, Victoria Street, during daylight hours to discuss her unique career, which came to a halt amid a global pandemic.
Anyone who has been looking for love on a Friday or Saturday night in Kamloops has likely seen Chernecki, as much of a staple to Kamloops’ nightlife as the very bars she frequents. People recognize her on the street. University students play games in which they need to purchase a flower from her.
“I’ve been invited to about 66 weddings,” Chernecki said. “I had one fellow years ago and their twins, I think, are 12 now. Eleven or 12. He would see me, he would buy the whole bundle. They split up the one time. He just wouldn’t give up. He kept buying flowers and buying flowers. Whenever they’ve come out afterwards, he’s always bought her roses since.”
Chernecki got her start selling roses just before Rick Hansen came to Kamloops during his Man in Motion tour in 1987. Sahali Flowers and K97 radio station were putting on a fundraiser called Roses for Rick and Chernecki’s sister asked if she would sell. Chernecki agreed, recruiting a couple of others to sell roses in downtown bars. The philanthropic enterprise blossomed into a business.
“A couple of years later, when Rick Hansen was doing motivational speaking, I ran into him and I actually took him a yellow rose and went over and thanked him because it morphed into my job,” she said, noting she was grateful because jobs were not easy to find for a single parent who had just moved to Kamloops in the 1980s.
For more than three decades, Chernecki has made a living selling roses by night and cleaning houses by day, mastering the side hustle before today’s gig economy. Over the years, the music has changed. The bars have changed. The people have changed. But, until the pandemic arrived, her business remained.
Selling about 120 flowers a night at $3 a stem — a price that never rose with inflation — Chernecki said she made about $1,000 per month selling roses. Red roses, the flower of love, is her bestseller, while yellow was not part of her rotation because they “look funny” in club lighting, she said.
On flower-selling nights, Chernecki leaves her house at 10 o’clock and stays out at long as it takes, until she sells all of her roses, sometimes until near bar closing time.
On one occasion, she walked into a bar at the beginning of her shift and somebody bought the entire inventory. She sold out within 22 minutes — her record — giving her the rest of the night off. She stayed and had a drink.
Always dressed to impress, wearing head-to-toe gowns, Chernecki insists it takes only seven minutes to get ready: a swipe of lipstick, a bit of mascara, a spritz of perfume and the dress, which she purchases second-hand.
“The roses are the jewelry,” she said.
But every rose has its thorn. For every nice bar patron, there is the other guy. Chernecki said she ran into the odd altercation. On one occasion, a man pulled down her dress. Bouncers keep their eyes out for her, but she said she doesn’t need their help.
“I had my fingers in his eyes, my knees in his crotch and I had him bent over the back bar of Cactus Jack’s,” she said. “Jack Daniels, maybe at that time. I had him over the bar and I lost it on him. They said, ‘You could charge him.’ I said, ‘Oh, no. The humiliation he got from me was probably enough.’”
Her job makes her a fly on the wall at bars — oh, the stories she could tell. She can rattle off old bar names and old bar owners.
She said she believes in love, happiness and spreading joy to others, including “crazy-ass people.”
She’s seen new relationships blossom and others go stale. She has seen people walk away from each other, only to get back together years later. In her experience, sometimes love simply works and sometimes it doesn’t.
A rose doesn’t hurt.
Chernecki is proof that a rose is more than a stereotype when it comes to love and that many couples have yet to blossom without her roaming the clubs in Kamloops during the pandemic.