Conversation condensed and edited
by Mary Architzel Westbrook
Sarah Munford and Laurel Quarberg own The New Leaf, a floral design studio in Norfolk’s Chelsea business district. In 2015, they were among 13 women honored by the YWCA of South Hampton Roads as Women of Distinction in the business category. The business is celebrating its 30th anniversary throughout 2017.
I moved to Norfolk from Richmond in 1987 and opened a tiny business on Raby Road, by Janaf. I called it The New Leaf, because that’s what I was doing, turning over a new leaf. After I met Laurel, we moved to a much bigger building in Ghent in 1989.
Technology has been a gift and a curse for us. Years ago, when I was trying to describe an exact shade of coral to a bride, I’d sometimes say, “I wish I could just hold the phone up to the arrangement.” Now we can do that. On the other hand, we’ve had to compete with things like 1-800-Flowers.com. The economy goes up and down, up and down. But flowers are always a luxury. It can be a challenge.
Our work is still a feelings business. Customers come in to pick up a boutonnière or a corsage, and I look up and say, “Oh my gosh! I remember when your dad was in here for his wedding. You’re as tall as he was.”
In 2010, we were looking for a change again. We didn’t need 16-foot ceilings anymore, or all those big containers and props to rent out for events. Brides were coming in with Pinterest boards and doing more themselves. We wanted to go smaller, sweeter. Laurel said, “Let’s look in West Ghent.” It was mostly just a neighborhood back then – plus a school, a few restaurants, and these huge tractor-trailers rumbling through, headed for Norfolk Southern. Laurel saw the potential. Pretty soon, other new businesses came in. We created this new business environment together. The move reinvigorated us; it’s the best thing we’ve ever done.
After all these years, Laurel and I understand how to work with each other pretty well. She’s quiet and contemplative, detail-oriented. I’m the one who whips up the arrangements. We balance each other. When we aren’t working, we’re fishing, water-skiing, gardening – watching the sunset on Craney Island from our backyard. It’s paradise.