In the early 20th Century, Bermuda’s tourism industry was in its infancy. The island’s attraction as a vacation destination emerged with the increased use of ocean transportation. In 1923, twenty-two year-old Walfrid Riihiluoma arrived on the island from Maynard, Massachuchets and sought to capitalize on the growing economy by performing as a concert violinist. He soon fell in love with and married Idina Brown. The newlyweds rented a cottage at the bottom of Cobb’s Hill Road for about £7 per month and for the next ten years, Walfrid made his living performing across the island.
As the Second World War approached, the number of vacationers to Bermuda dwindled as did the demand for musical entertainment. Instead, Bermuda was visited by in increasing number of British and US naval ships. Wilfred and Idina opened “The Little French Shop” in 1937 to serve the needs of these uniformed visitors. The original store was located at 19 Queen Street, where The Card Cove is now (although in 1937 this store was half the size!). The eclectic inventory, which targeted vacationers, Navy sailors and locals, included perfume, gift pillow cases, waxed passion flowers, doe skin gloves, cedar book ends and cedar ornaments. In the beginning, many of the shelves were lined with empty boxes to disguise the sparse inventory. Once the war began, contraband auctions supplied much of the store’s merchandise; these were auctions of goods that had been seized from captured enemy ships (coffee, clothes, scarves etc.).
The war also brought Millicent Rance to the island, one of the store’s most valuable employee’s. Ms. Rance came to the island from the UK as a censor. During the War, the basement of the Hamilton Princess was the headquarters for British postal censorship in Bermuda. Censors tirelessly reviewed incoming and outgoing post for British Intelligence. At the close of the War, Millicent stayed on the island and worked as a saleswoman for Swiss watches in the little French Shop. Her patience and kindness was remembered by customers and became an invaluable asset to the business. Millicent worked in the store for nearly 50 years and her daughter, Ms. Beryl Schoch, has been an integral part of the team since 1959.
After the war, tourism in Bermuda grew once again as air travel made Bermuda a more accessible destination. In 1954, Walfrid and Idina opened another store, called “The English Gift Shop” across the street at 16 Queen Street (the building Crisson’s now occupies). “The Little French Shop” was taken over by Idina’s sister, Gladys Zinc. With more store space, Walfrid and Idina made their first venture into high-end musical equipment, including the Grundig HiFi Stereo. They also began selling Swiss watches including the popular Borel Cocktail watch – “the watch with the moveable face”.
Walfrid & Idina’s son, John Riihiluoma joined the business in 1953, having graduated from Cornell University in three years earlier. Being an enthusiastic young graduate, John insisted that they should extend credit to their customers for the high priced electronics. Eventually his parents, who were reputed for their frugality, agreed. They sold an expensive stereo on credit for the first time. That night, the first customer to hold a line of credit at Riihiluoma’s was murdered!
In 1955 the store moved to its current location at 9 Queen Street and was renamed Riihiluoma’s. The three-storey building allowed the business to expand its array of products and services. On the third floor, the store offered stereo equipment and servicing, piano rentals and Olympia Typewriters. This meant that all deliveries, including pianos, had to be hoisted to the third floor with a block and tackle! Women’s and children’s fancy clothing were sold on the second floor under the exceptional management of Eleanor Riihiluoma, John’s wife. Estelle “Pinky” Dickson joined the team to work with Eleanor. The first floor remained dedicated to the core business: gifts and souvenirs. Making the most of the space available, the family also sold a number of different products from the small alley adjacent to the store. These ventures included “Straw Alley” (selling various straw goods), “Shell shock Alley” (selling shells and shell items), as well as ice-cream and lemonade. For a brief while the family opened the “Fiesta Shop” on Reid Street, where they sold Mexican jewelry and gifts!
In 1968, Walfrid died after struggling with Lou Gehrig’s disease. The store continued to thrive under the management of John and Idina. Joanne Riihiluoma (John’s daughter, now Joanne Hunt), joined the store in 1980; with a keen eye for buying, she led the store into the t-shirt business.
In 1983, Jay Riihiluoma (John’s son) joined the business and led the growth of the music store to cover the entire second floor. Riihiluomas’ expanded music shop offered piano rentals and sales, instrument sales and repair, electronic keyboards, sheet music and lessons. For twelve years Riihiluoma's was Bermuda’s largest most extensive music center. Jay and Joanne sold the music business in 1995 to allow Jay and Joanne to focus their attention on the core business. The family also opened a second location at 99 Front Street.
In 1995, the store underwent its most recent transformation to become Riihiluoma’s Flying Colours. The name, Flying Colours, was chosen in reference to the twelve flags from around the world which are flown from the store’s windows. The Riihiluoma family still owns and manages the stores and not a single one of John Riihluoma’s six children or twelve grandchildren (older than 6!) have neglected to spend at least some time helping out. The store is currently being managed by Jay Riihiluoma and Sarah Fields (Joanne’s daughter). Needless to say, Riihiluoma’s Flying Colours has had many faces throughout its history. The block and tackle has been replaced with an electric hoist and you will not see any pianos dangling three storeys above Queen Street. But all the while one thing has remained the same: the Riihiluoma family remains proud to work together with a friendly and dedicated team to serve Bermuda’s visitors and locals alike.