- The Washington Times - Friday, April 12, 2002

Sefika Kurt has clients, not customers.
A small woman with long, sandy brown locks and a tiny ceramic frog on a black string necklace, Ms. Kurt runs A Little Shop of Flowers in the District's Adams Morgan neighborhood. She uses the word "clients" repeatedly to emphasize that she runs more than a floral assembly line churning out standard bouquets for people who are merely numbers in a ledger.
"This type of business is emotional," Ms. Kurt, 36, said as she unwrapped a new batch of fresh flowers from Holland. "People come to a flower shop to make someone happy."
If color cheers people up, then merely stepping inside her small tiled showroom should suffice.
The shop is a kaleidoscope of color thanks to flowers with unusual names that would not grow anywhere in the Washington area, except perhaps in a greenhouse. There are bright cobalt-blue delphiniums, brilliant yellow kangaroo paws and puffy purple tracheliums. Then there are the proteas, less a flower than a brown, hairy husk with a fuzzy bloom that resembles a human eye.
And dozens more.
Ms. Kurt, a native of Turkey, often begins her day early in the morning at a suburban Maryland flower wholesaler.
Rather than have the new blooms delivered, she checks out the various flowers, loads them into her truck and heads to the shop, which is in an old building with peeling paint and weathered wood near the busy intersection of 18th Street and Columbia Road NW.
By 9 am, she usually has the shop open. By noon she has helped a few customers, some from the businesses that support the area's thriving nightlife, some who are regulars. Yesterday, one of the regulars was the ambassador of Senegal.
While his bodyguard stood by the door, and his black Lincoln Town Car blocked traffic out front, Manadou Mansour Sech ordered a big flower arrangement.
The occasion? Senegal's national holiday, he pointed out, before striding regally out the door.
Ms. Kurt developed her affinity for flowers during her own stay in Washington, not as an ambassador but as a student in an intensive English class 10 years ago.
She initially developed a real distaste for the United States, especially when answering questions from Americans like "Do you wear a turban at home?"
But a fight with her Turkish boyfriend gave Ms. Kurth a reason to stay in Washington, as did a friend who offered her a job as a florist downtown.
Before long, she met Americans she could respect or even like.
"Working in the flower shop changed how I thought about the United States," she said.
After a falling out with the manager of that store, Ms. Kurt worked through a few other floral jobs before taking the plunge.
Apart from her strongly accented English, Ms. Kurt seems a native now. After the terrorist attacks of September 11, Ms. Kurt hung a large American flag over her work area. She also donated a portion of her profits to the American Red Cross.
American citizenship followed in February.
Taking a cue from her workaholic fellow citizens, Ms. Kurt spends most of her time in the shop, which is open seven days a week. The attitude rubs off, voluntarily or otherwise, on those close to her.
"When I had dates, I used to send the men on deliveries," she said. Then she sent her visiting sister Suna, a lawyer living in Turkey, to drop a bouquet off at a nearby business.
The shop's start 10 years ago was inauspicious.
"I saw a lot of guns," she said.
After opening, Ms. Kurt was robbed "about every 10 days," she said. One caper cost her $1,000.
Ms. Kurt stays alert to her own security as well as her client's emotional needs. But gauging what kind of flowers different people associate with various moods is an inexact science, as she found out when a man yesterday walked in and asked for a single red rose.
"Someone's in love," Ms. Kurt said happily.
"No," the customer replied. "Her mother died."
"Oh," she added quickly. "I'm terribly sorry."

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