PITTSFIELD — There is a store located in the 400 block of North Street where the interior setting contrasts sharply with the urban environment right outside the door.
Flowers, plants, antiques and homemade objects — they all are on display at Township Four Floristry & Home. Co-owners Jed Thompson and Nathan Hanford, business as well as life partners, offer a full range of floral design services in this unusual setting.
"Being from Becket, we want people in the heart of the city of Pittsfield to walk in our doors and forget that North Street is outside," Hanford said.
After St. Joseph Central High School closed, Thompson and Hanford outfitted their store with classroom furniture that used to be in the school's chemistry and earth science's department.
"So, that's part of the look of the store," said Hanford, whose parents are St. Joe alumni.
We spoke with both men recently about what they are trying to achieve.
Q: There's a quote on Township Four's website by Albert Einstein that states: "The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source of all art and science." What does that mean in relationship to Township Four?
Hanford: That quote was meant to capture your attention.
Thompson: That quote encapsulates part of what we do and who we are.
Q: So, what are you trying to get across to your customers?
Thompson: We want people to have an authentic feel just through the authenticity of what we do, whether it's naturally through plants or flowers or something else. ... I know that Nathan has said over the years that no matter who you are, when you walk into the shop you see something — a vignette, a table scape — and you can re-create that at home, no matter who you are.
Hanford: Our purpose in opening Township Four was to give something to a place that was in need of a bit of beauty, and I think that our purpose in opening the shop was to inspire people to bring bits of beauty into their everyday life. We mean all people, not just people with dollar signs. ... If they want to come in and walk around and decompress, that is good with us.
Q: Why did you open the store in Pittsfield?
Hanford: Number one, because it's essential for us to do deliveries in Berkshire County and over into Columbia County, so, [Pittsfield] is central for us. Secondly, my family, both on my mother and father's side, go back in Pittsfield four generations, and most of them owned businesses. ... One of my father's great-uncles actually lived in an apartment above our shop.
Thompson: When we opened, streetscaping [on North Street] had just finished, and with Hotel on North coming in, there was a revitalization of the street, and we wanted to be a part of that. ...
In the immediacy of where we should do this, we thought about other cities and towns. We aren't opposed to opening satellite locations, but there was definitely [a feeling of] let's take a look at this and go from there.
Q: What did you guys do before you met?
Thompson: Separately, we had our own businesses. I had a small flower shop/plant antique shop in my hometown in Rhode Island [Hope Valley], before moving up to the Berkshires.
Hanford: I'm a hand embroidery artist. When I moved to London, I opened a small studio on Columbia Road, which is one of the historic flower markets in London. ... During the week, there were only flower sellers on the street, so, I began carrying some things that were plant- and flower-related in my studio.
Q: Jed, how did you become a florist?
Thompson: When I was 19, I started working for the best florist in Rhode Island, Jephry Floral Studio. It's an independent floral studio, just like we are. I modeled this store and my previous shop after (Jephry Studio's owner, Jeffrey Kerkhoff), with his blessing.
Being an independent flower shop, Jephry was bringing in some unusual and gorgeous florals, and it still is. They weren't any of the traditional wire service flowers.
Q: I've noticed you don't sell traditional wire service flowers either.
Thompson: There are so many incredible flowers out there. ... Carnations and daisies are lovely flowers, and there are some incredible varieties out there, but for the same price you can get something that might be a little bit different or unusual, something you haven't seen before.
There's also a greater flexibility. We're not constrained by anybody else's design, really. ... Our flowers represent our design, and we want to make sure we showcase that. If we were under the guise of a traditional florist, we might not always be able to do that.
Most traditional florists rely on those orders to be funneled in to them. The way we opened our shop is more difficult. You're not part of a national network. You have to work at it. ... All that we've accomplished has been based on a lot of hard work and getting our work out there and getting our name out there.
Q: Where do the flowers you sell come from?
Hanford: We try and focus a large percentage of our buying from local farms that stretch all the way from Vermont to the Pioneer Valley all the way to Columbia [County] and the Hudson Valley. ... The flowers we get from the wholesaler often come from South America, and they can come from South Africa, Holland and Australia. ...
Some of the nicest stems come from Japan. ... Believe it or not, flowers ship incredibly well. They are very forgiving, oftentimes more forgiving than plants.
Q: Why did you name the store Township Four?
Hanford: It's the original [Colonial] name for Becket. ... We decided to name the store Township Four because we find that Becket is the inspiration for the store. The earthiness of the woods; the classic furniture and tools we have for sale; the specimens and science glass kind of reminds me of my childhood [in Becket], collecting pine cones and pieces of moss and specimens, having this great collection of things that were mine.
I think that's kind of why we chose that name, so people could get that feeling and tap into that childhood world of curiosity and wonder and the strangeness of learning about something.