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Free roses make a day


Hope Rock left TownMall of Westminster with a dozen free roses yesterday and headed for the courthouse where her mother works.

"They hear horror stories about me all the time from my mom," said Rock, 19. "Maybe today they will like me."

Rock's bouquet was one of thousands that Baltimore-area florists gave away in celebration of Good Neighbor Day. Nursing homes, senior centers, hospitals, schools and a soup kitchen were awash in attar, as people passed the floral gifts along. The premise is: Keep one rose and give away 11 to someone needing a pick-me-up or a thank you.

"I never once met someone who got a rose and didn't smile," said Brook Jacobs, a Mississippi florist who started the tradition seven years ago. "Good Neighbor Day is really a day of smiles."

Thousands of florists nationwide play good neighbor, "giving away more roses than are sold on Valentine's Day," said Jacobs, who, with Mississippi's governor and eight area mayors, passed out 30,000 of America's favorite flower to Jackson residents.

In Baltimore, Paul Raimondi gave away 100,000 roses through his 11 retail outlets. The Westminster Raimondi's had 10,000 to hand out by the dozen - worth more than $15,000 if they were sold at retail prices. By early afternoon, the last petals were whisked from the shop.

Hutchinson's Florist in Eldersburg gave away nearly 5,000 roses yesterday, the first 40 dozen to a line of people waiting for the shop to open at 8:30 a.m.

"Everyone is catching rose fever," said Tom Howes, Hutchinson's manager. "Everybody loves roses, and this time of year they are really plentiful."

Quite a change from Feb. 14, a traditionally rosy holiday, that has customers paying from $29 to $65 for a dozen roses or $1.75 a rose.

"I congratulate [florists] for doing such a nice thing," said Rachel Borgen of Boring. "You seldom hear anything about businesses giving things away."

Wayne Hendren, manager of the Westminster Raimondi's, asks for a name and address from each person taking a bouquet, only to keep the line moving a bit slower. He does not check for anyone going through the line more than once. "By far, the greater majority do exactly what they should do and give the roses away," he said. "They go to nursing homes, to shut-ins. Generally, everywhere I go today, I'll see somebody with a rose. It is so cool when they come back and tell you what they did with the flowers."

When Hendren arrived yesterday morning, he found about a dozen people waiting. A stream of people followed.

"I guess we are in the run for the roses," said Harold Bloecher, whose hospital appointment would include flowers for patients.

Nita Fennell would be giving her bouquet to her daughter, who had just moved to a new subdivision. Greetings with roses might be a good way to get acquainted with new neighbors, she said. That will work, said Sherald Cooper of Owings Mills.

"I gave mine to neighbors last year, and since then they have been more friendly," Cooper said.

A rose can be a great icebreaker, said Hendren. "The main thrust is not the rose," he said. "It just opens the door to conversation and good feelings."

The first 24 customers at Carroll Lutheran Village pharmacy would get a surprise from Charlie Brown, an employee who picked up two bunches before work. "They will think I am the greatest thing that ever walked," he said.

Red was the most popular among the preschool set. Zoe Rosner, 2, buried her face in a deep red bunch that she planned to share with her cousins. Bradley Leete, 5, chose the same shade for his mother and grandmother. When asked what color she wanted, Gabrielle Lucas, 4, pointed to a red flower on her shirt.

Myrtle Hoff would say "thank you" with roses to a neighbor who had picked up her mail. Mary Kuhn would make her dozen part of place settings at the Westminster soup kitchen, where she volunteered. Georgette Crowley knew she would not get home to Manchester with her peach roses. "I just give them to people who walk into the mall," she said.

Ruth and Robert Dors were sipping on coffee at a mall when several people left roses on their table. Before shopping for their 50th wedding anniversary gift, the couple headed for Raimondi's. "We want to do the same thing everybody else is doing and give away roses," he said.

Others gave the roses to loved ones. John Black's bouquet of yellow roses would go to his wife. Tony Green's mother would be the recipient of flowers from Hutchinson's. And Beth Briles said, "I never had anybody give me flowers, so I am going to keep these."

Some florists have discontinued the practice, noting abuse. "I had people come in who already had a couple of dozen in their car," said Kim Sellman, manager of Dixon's Florist in Sykesville.

Barbara Kearns participated when she opened Hampstead Florist three years ago. She said she learned then that she could not afford the promotion and "a lot of people don't get into the spirit of it. They don't give the roses away."

She could not buy in bulk like the larger businesses, and the giveaway cost her at least 25 cents a flower. A merchant who bought 100,000 roses probably would pay as little as 3 cents, she said.

But, Hendren said, most people get into the spirit.

"This is not a holiday for you to go out and buy something for somebody," he said. "This is a day to give something special away."

He had only to look at a car making frequent stops along Liberty Road yesterday morning.

Rose Marie Yost and her husband each got a dozen roses from Hutchinson's and drove along the highway, giving roses to clerks at the bank and grocery, McDonald's and Kmart.

"We gave them to everybody we like," said Yost. "We think they all deserve a rose."

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