The Heart of Downtown
Sigman’s Flowers and Gifts has been a landmark in The Dalles for decades
Story and photos by Rodger Nichols
Businesses have come and gone on the southwest corner of Second and Court streets, but none so durable as Sigman’s Flowers and Gifts.
The structure in The Dalles was built in 1890 by Albert V. Bettingen—an immigrant, tinsmith, and hardware merchant. The second floor was known as Oaks Hotel, which at one time served as a brothel. One of the rooms featured a trap door in the floor. In the event of a raid, the customer could escape.
Prior to Sigman’s, the ground floor was occupied by a dry goods store, a pair of cigar shops, a saloon, and a confectionary before becoming the town’s first Safeway grocery store.
Sometime in the late 1930s or early 1940s, a second storefront facing Second Street featured Jesse’s Flowers. Not much is known about that business, but it was bought in 1962 by Dufur native Bruce Sigman, who expanded it into the front section facing Second Street.
Bruce was 22 at the time, right out of Oregon State University. As a child, he attended florist school in Portland. At age 12, he became the youngest licensed florist in Oregon. He also picked up his flower-related nickname, “Bud.”
Current business owner Claudia Leash, a native of The Dalles, began to work for Bruce in 1976. In 1980, she bought the business but kept the name.
“No man worked so hard to build this business up, and he built it from pretty much nothing,” Claudia says. “His was an old family from Dufur, and that name should be honored.”
In the 40 years since, Claudia has become a welcoming presence at the store. At age 77, she is on-site every day. She has several employees who help with the orders. When it comes to Mother’s Day and Valentine’s Day, it’s all hands on deck.
Claudia says the pandemic has affected her business.
“We’re not making a lot of money, but we’re paying our light bills and I’ve not had to let any help go,” she says. “I feel very grateful for that.”
The internet is helping to keep the store in business.
“The Teleflora orders are coming in because so many people cannot go visit Grandma or can’t come home and see Mama for Christmas,” Claudia says. “We’re doing smaller bouquets, but we’re doing a lot of them.”
The shop is careful to follow health department protocols. Everyone in the store is masked, and hand sanitizer sits next to the entrance. The store offers curbside pickup and, thanks to an active Facebook page, customers can see a number of options and call in orders.
During the holidays, Claudia made some changes in her window display.
“Normally, I put a rather elegant window in the front,” she says. “But I figured with the year that we’ve had, people needed something to enjoy.”
The display featured several gnomes in a big red truck.
“It was really silly, but it put a lot of smiles on people’s faces,” Claudia says.
Although fresh flowers make up the bulk of Sigman’s business, Claudia also sells gourmet Moonstruck chocolates and silk flower arrangements. She notes some hospital patients cannot have fresh flowers in their room, and silk flowers also are welcomed in assisted living facilities because they last and don’t need to be watered.
Working with perishable flowers demands a lot of attention to detail, particularly in calculating orders. Rather than run out, Claudia says she often has a surplus beyond what is needed to fill her orders.
“For anything I am not comfortable sending out, I have a wonderful lady, Joanne Hendricks,” Claudia says. “I send her my flowers that I know she’ll get at least four or five days out of them. They all go to the nursing homes and the veterans’ home. I donate those.”
Claudia fields requests not often made in big cities, such as for rodeo queens in parades. In Portland’s Grand Floral Parade, elaborate sprays drape over the sides of the horses. Bridles and breast collars are decorated as well. It’s a complicated process. The sprays require hundreds of blossoms, each of which must be wired and taped as if it were a boutonniere.
“One year we had five queens, and they took first and third place,” Claudia says. “It was pretty nice for someone from The Dalles to win.”
There have been several changes in the business throughout the years. When Claudia started, suppliers were primarily in the Portland area, with some from California. Now it’s primarily South America, particularly Colombia.
“They cut the flowers one day, and they are in the shop the next day,” Claudia says.
Preferences in species have also changed.
“We never used hydrangeas, peonies, or lily of the valley because those things did not hold up,” Claudia says, noting new varieties of those flowers do.
These days, the shop seldom uses gladiolas, which were a staple 40 years ago. But the biggest change has come in roses.
“We only had four colors: red, white, yellow, and pink,” Claudia says. “Now we have every color you can imagine.”
When the day comes for Claudia to retire, she says her daughter is ready to retire from her job to take the reins and keep the legacy going. But that day hasn’t arrived quite yet.
“I still get a tremendous pleasure out of taking all these objects and making something beautiful,” Claudia says. “When I don’t feel that way anymore, then it’s time for me to retire.”