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East County Wednesday, Nov. 7, 2018 1 year ago

Business blooms in Lakewood Ranch

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New owner's dreams planted in Fantasy Flowers
by: Jay Heater Managing Editor

It was one of Michelle Bridges' first chances to meet people from her new community.

In October, Bridges bought Fantasy Flowers from her friend, Debbie Sanders, who had started the flower shop in July but had to back away due to other commitments.

Bridges loved her spot on Lakewood Main Street in Lakewood Ranch and felt it wouldn't be long before folks would get to know her.

About two weeks after opening, an older gentleman came through her door and explained every year of his marriage, he would add one rose to a vase to present to his wife on their anniversary.

So Bridges asked him, "How many roses do you need?"

Sixty-four.

Bridges went to work. "I enjoy making things on the spot," she said. "And I can custom make anything you want. I think (the vase with 64 flowers) was stunning."

She was able to follow her lifelong love of creating beauty with flowers, and she made a friend.

More friendships started to bloom. The ladies who found her shop questioned her timing for transforming to a Christmas theme.

"I thought it was too early," Bridges said on Nov. 2. "But the ladies who have been coming in want to get ready for Christmas."

Bridges got busy changing out fall colors for Christmas themes. She was smiling.

"It always has been a dream of mine," she said of owning a flower shop. "I was waiting for the right location and area. Then I saw this storefront and I knew instantly."

Although Bridges lives in Sarasota, her two oldest boys, 12-year-old Archer and 8-year-old Cody, play soccer in East County and that led her to spend quite a bit of time at Main Street at Lakewood Ranch. Her other son Tate, is 6.

"I love this area and the community feel," she said. "And I want to bring back the timeless view of the flower shop, that overwhelming feeling of freshness and beauty. It is a luxury to have fresh flowers in life."

Growing up in Philadelphia, Bridges began a career in the flower industry when she picked up a part-time job when she was 14 at the Roosevelt Florist. She would get there by 3:30 p.m. after school and work until 9 learning how to design with flowers. She still remembers the smells of those first years.

Since then, she said she has been involved in every aspect of the flower industry.

She moved from Philadelphia to London when she was 22 and lived there for 15 years, running a business as a floral wedding consultant. She loved her job and said she can't remember a customer ever complaining.

In 2012, she moved from London to Sarasota with her husband, David. She became the head buyer for Manatee Farms, where she worked for five years until she made the move to buy her own shop.

"I am not afraid of hard work," she said. "There is instant satisfaction from creating emotion and a smile."

She hopes the community will discover her passion for her business while finding out that she is prepared to help in any way she can. Being a florist often means going through the joys of a wedding or the sadness of a funeral.

"I stay with people through things," she said.

She hopes people will come to find she is an expert at her craft.

"You not only have to be an artist, but you must be very practical," she said. "You can't forget the business side."

Everything that adorns her store will be for sale or can be recreated, she said. "Although many of her displays use silk flowers, she can duplicate it using real flowers.

While many of her daytime customers are women, she said the Man Hour is 5 to 6 p.m. when men come into the store because they need to buy their wives birthday or anniversary presents on the way home.

She also loves the times when Lakewood Main Street is packed.

"There are so many community events here," she said.

For now, Christmas is the main event and Bridges knows she needs to get busy.

"At holiday times, you never stop," she said. "But that's OK, it gets into your blood. It's inside of you."

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