Jim Katcavage: Floral aficionado, now in bloom in Havertown

I think I know why they put Valentine’s Day in the middle of February. It’s because during this cold, white and gray time of year, we need a pop of red to cheer us up and help us make it to spring. Someone who knows all about colors is Jim Katcavage from Envy Floral Affairs in Havertown.

PGN: So I usually try to do a little research on my subjects but when I Googled your name, the only Jim Katcavage I could find was a defensive end from the New York Giants. I’m assuming that’s not you. JK: That’s my dad! He played from 1956-70, before coaching the Giants and then the Eagles under Dick Vermeil and then back to the Giants again until he passed away. He died at age 60.

PGN: So were you a big football fan? JK: Oh yeah, I still am. Had to be. I still remember going to Yankee Stadium every weekend when my dad was playing and then the Vet when he was playing with the Eagles. We were season-ticket holders too; football was our life.

PGN: So cool! JK: Yeah, he was part of the original “Fearsome Foursome” with Rosie Grier and he played on six world-championship teams. He was a big guy!

PGN: Did any of those sports genes rub off on you? JK: I played a little bit of football in high school but really didn’t have the stature for it. [Laughs.] I have my dad’s build and my mom’s height.

PGN: What other things did you enjoy? JK: Believe it or not I was really into gardening even back then. I used to landscape all my parents’ property and did neighbors’ and friends’ houses too. I just loved plants and flowers.

PGN: What did your mom do? JK: She was a housewife for years, and later decided to take a job as an appliance salesperson.

PGN: I assume she’s a football fan too? JK: Oh yes, she’s still a major Giants fan. She’s 77 and knows more about the sport than most women I know.

PGN: Any siblings? JK: One sister, she’s older than me.

PGN: What was your favorite thing to study in school? JK: History.

PGN: [Laughs.] So which were you attracted to first, flowers or boys? JK: Flowers first … boys second!

PGN: When did you realize the second? JK: I always kind of knew but I got married first. Towards the end of my marriage, I sort of knew I’d been hiding something from myself. The marriage didn’t break up because of that — there were other issues — but shortly after the divorce I came out to my wife and to my children. Luckily for me, no one had an issue with it: not my mother, not my sister, not my children, no one. In fact, my sister’s reaction was, “I always thought you were.”

PGN: Yeah, I would think being a florist might be a clue. JK: I know! What kid in grammar school loves arranging flowers?

PGN: What’s your favorite flower? JK: Oh, that’s a hard one. I’m a big orchid buff. I like roses but not just red or white ones, I like different colors like purple or orange.

PGN: What makes orchids so special? JK: They’re very long-lasting and beautiful to look at with their speckled throats. They’re colorful and relatively easy to maintain and you can make a statement with just one vase of orchids, nothing else. No greenery or anything else needed.

PGN: Do you ever get clients who want something so hideous you cringe at putting your name on it? JK: Yes! I had a bride one time who wanted an entire bouquet of carnations. I kept on saying, “Are you sure this is what you want?” And I’ve had clients who wanted me to spraypaint the flowers. That I won’t do; I’m very natural with my work.

PGN: So how long have you been doing this? JK: I’ve worked in the industry since 1988, including running Pennocks in Center City at 17th and Walnut for a time. Then one day I decided to open up my own business so I quit my job and came home and told my ex-wife, who I thought was going to strangle me. I opened up my first shop, Ring of Roses, and it expanded and grew and 14 years later I transferred to Envy Floral Affairs. It’s been doing very well. I love it, just love it.

PGN: And what brought you to Havertown? JK: I love this area. There’s nonstop traffic through here. I wanted to have a store that was quaint and small. People see our windows and pull over to run in and buy flowers.

PGN: This is a little off the beaten path. Did you live out here? JK: I grew up in Gwynedd then Narberth and when I was looking to buy a home, Havertown offered the best deals at the time. It’s a very friendly community.

PGN: Is there much of a gay community here? JK: No, that part’s difficult. It’s very isolating. I had to reach out to a woman who’s part of the lesbian community and runs a dog-grooming company nearby just to have someone to commiserate with. There are no gay bars out here and not many gay people or, if there are, they’re in the closet. I would love to have something out here and not have to travel into the city just to meet someone. One of my friends told me I should put a rainbow sticker on the door so that’s probably my next step.

PGN: And you could have the PGN delivered here. JK: That would be great. I’d love to see who picks it up!

PGN: Ever have any problems because of being gay out here? JK: Never. I have a great slew of friends, mostly straight and they’re all very accepting. [Laughs.] In fact some of them are trying to find a boyfriend for me!

PGN: What are some of the things that you do in the shop aside from selling flowers? JK: Well, we do all the arranging ourselves, and we do a lot of wedding work. I was up to about 55 weddings per year.

PGN: Tell me about the first wedding you did on your own. JK: It was when I opened my first shop; actually we weren’t even open yet. A woman came in and I thought she was a saleswoman. She had a briefcase and she was crying. She told me she was getting married in one month and the florist that she had hired told her that her flowers would look insignificant if she didn’t spend more money. She walked out of that shop, got into her car and drove over to me. I told her I could take care of it. I’m very fair-priced and I’ll work with anybody’s budget. She had 11 bridesmaids and five of them later went on to book with me when they got married. She’s still a customer to this day; in fact, she was just in here at Christmastime. She’s been married for 15 years and has four kids now.

PGN: Who did the flowers for your wedding? JK: I did. And I had a lot of them. I set them up myself the day of my wedding. There was a runway of lights and candles and massive bouquets of white calla lilies and Casablanca lilies. The church smelled spectacular!

PGN: [Laughs.] And no one guessed you were gay then? JK: No!

PGN: Have you done any commitment ceremonies? JK: No, no. I would like to, I would love to, but I haven’t had the opportunity to do that.

PGN: What’s the most outrageous event you’ve done? JK: I did a bat mitzvah in Fairmount Park that had an Alice in Wonderland theme. We brought in a New York prop designer. I put sod on the tables and had the plates on the grass. We cut holes in the sod and put violets in them so they looked like they were growing out of the table. Then we had trees made with curly willow and had candles hanging from the trees. There was a Cheshire cat and the looking glass. It was really unique and fun.

PGN: Valentine’s Day is coming up and, of course, roses are always popular. Do you know the meaning of the different colors? JK: I know some of them, like lovely is pink and friendship is yellow, red is love of course and lavender is lust.

PGN: Really? Do you make many lavender bouquets? JK: [Laughs.] Yes, I have as a matter of fact!

PGN: What are your three favorite scents? JK: I love gardenias and lavender and the smell of fresh-cut grass.

PGN: Least favorite? JK: I can’t stand the smell of mulch! It makes me nauseous so it’s tough when I’m doing landscaping.

PGN: Isn’t it funny that being a landscaper is perceived as masculine — there aren’t too many female landscapers — but as soon as you cut the flowers and put them in a vase, it becomes feminine? JK: You know you’re right, I hadn’t thought about that. I can grow the roses and no one bats an eye, but if I cut and arrange them, it’s gay.

PGN: Do you think it’s changing? JK: You know, I think it is shifting. These days I get a lot of boys who want to come in and order the corsages for prom and they don’t seem embarrassed about being in a flower shop at all. They really get into picking out the right colors and design.

PGN: Tell me about your kids. JK: I have four girls: a 12-year-old, a 13-year-old, a soon-to-be 16-year-old and an 18-year-old. And they’re so accepting, I couldn’t be happier. My oldest is always like, “When are you going to find somebody, Dad?”

PGN: What’s a great memory with them? JK: I love Christmas, it’s my favorite time of year. One of my best memories was when they were older and we all went to Avalon vacationing with my ex, who I’m still good friends with. Having them accept me and being there like a family was wonderful.

PGN: Was your dad still alive when you came out? JK: No, he passed in 1995. But I think he’s proud of me. It would have been tough at first but he would have been OK with it. At the end of his career there were a few football players who came out, and he never had a bad word to say about anybody.

PGN: Was it fun having a football-player dad? JK: It was fun in high school when my father played for the Eagles. My friends would come to the games and sit in the box with me but when he was a Giant it was tough living in Philadelphia.

PGN: Did you get teased more as a kid for liking flowers or for rooting for the Giants? JK: Both, it was tough for a while. But I had a good core group of friends.

PGN: Back to the present, how often do you work in the store? JK: Six days a week and I also work part time at night as a banquet sales manager for Paxon Hollow country club in Media.

PGN: Yikes. That’s a lot of traveling. JK: I know, I tend to work a lot.

PGN: So is the hardest part figuring out what people want? JK: No, I’m really good at reading people. I’m very good at figuring out what they want. I’ll ask a lot of questions and usually figure out what’s right for them before they do.

PGN: Why should people go to a florist? JK: It’s a lot different when you go to a florist and know you’re getting fresh flowers that have been cut and arranged by a professional. We’ve learned our trade: We cut them and condition the flowers and put them in coolers at the perfect temperature. That’s our job, to maintain and make sure that flowers stay beautiful — unlike a supermarket or chain store where they keep the flowers in a bucket overnight, sometimes left out. They may have someone on duty to put some flowers together but it’s not the same as a professional. A lot of people may be able to look at a picture in a book and re-create it, but a trained florist always has a special creative spark, brings something of their own that’s different and unique. It’s something that’s innate for people who go into this business. I also like the idea of supporting mom-and-pop businesses instead of these superstores. I would like to see that happen more often.

PGN: Well, I can certainly tell they’re fresh. The second you walk in the door there’s a very distinctive, lovely green scent. JK: And when we have lilies and some of the other fragrant flowers out, you can smell it from the street.

PGN: Why do you have a stripper in your shop? JK: Ha ha ha! It’s a tool we use for stripping the thorns and leaves off the flowers. It’s very convenient.

PGN: Some random questions. What show would I find most often on your DVR? JK: [Laughs.] Do I have to answer this? “Dallas,” the old one and I love the new one. I also love “Saturday Night Live.” I was loyal even during the not-so-good years.

PGN: Most embarrassing moment? JK: I congratulated a woman on her pregnancy and asked her when she was due and it turned out she wasn’t pregnant. I was mortified and she probably wasn’t too happy either!

PGN: Favorite pair of shoes? JK: I like Birkenstocks.

PGN: So you’re a secret lesbian? JK: Hey, they’re comfortable!

PGN: What’s the best part of your job? JK: When I get a letter from a bride telling me that I made her day special. It means a lot to me. It feels really good.

PGN: So before we go, give me some inside tips on what to do with the tons of Valentine’s Day flowers I’m sure to get. JK: Sure, to extend the life of your flowers, put in a capful of bleach to keep the water clean and fresh and keep the bacteria away. Just a capful, though, not a shot glass! If you have tulips they love pennies — the copper makes them stand straight and last longer — and always use cold water for tulips; warm water makes them drop. When you’re arranging your flowers, always use a knife, not cutting shears, and cut at an angle so it will open up the stems. Cutting shears tend to clamp the stem and an air pocket can form, especially with roses. Warm water is good for all flowers except tulips. And finally, if you need flowers, especially lilies, to open quickly, make sure all the greens are off and put them in a bucket with very warm water. Throw in some sliced apples and put the bucket in a trash bag and close it. Overnight the flowers will open up for you!

PGN: Good to know.

For more information about Envy Floral Affairs, visit www.envyfloralaffairs.com.

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