Celebrating 40 years

Bruce A. Chester, owner of Martha E. Harris Flowers and Gifts in Madison Park, pulls some roses from a cooler at his shop recently. The business, which Chester inherited from founder Martha Harris after she passed, celebrated its 40th anniversary in 2020. Although 2020 was a rough year overall, Martha E. Harris Flowers & Gifts in Madison Park celebrated a significant milestone in 2020 when the shop turned 40 years old.

Although they have been unable to do so yet, owner Bruce A. Chester hopes to fete the achievement along with his husband, staff and customers, with a party sometime this year. He said he didn’t want to celebrate without the loyal customers who have supported and sustained the floral and gift boutique through the year and especially the pandemic.

“Our amazing customers have shown such incredible support through this extraordinary year we have all been going through,” Chester said in an email. “A huge thank you to them.”

Founder Martha Harris started the her floral business in her garage 40 years ago before it moved to a storefront in University Village and then to its current location at 4218 E. Madison St. In 1996, Harris hired Chester as a floral designer. Chester already had extensive experience in the industry, having gotten his start in it as a young teenager, and was working somewhere else when he applied to work for Harris on a whim.

“It all just fell together in a day, basically,” Chester said.

When Harris was diagnosed with cancer, she began turning more duties over to Chester. She later told Chester she wished to leave him the business in her will, and when she passed, he formally took over the business.

“It was just kind of a natural transition to me, taking over,” he said.

Chester said the adjustment was fairly seamless, in part because he and the staff had worked with each other for a long time, and there hadn’t been much turnover.

“I was more than willing to do it,” he said. “It’s a legacy to carry on.”

Chester said turning 40 years is significant for any business, but it is especially so for floral shops and boutiques.

“I believe florists and any business dealing in perishable items have an even more difficult time as our product must be sold right away,” Chester said in an email.

He said, while movies and TV shows often make floral shops look like romantic enterprises, running one is hard and demanding work.

“As much as every day is wonderful working with beautiful gifts from Mother Nature, the business requires long hours, flower shopping at five a.m., working past midnight on holidays, (and) the sacrifice of any personal life, time with friends and family around the holidays,” Chester said in an email.When new floral shop owners realize all that, accompanied with lots of lifting, stressful deadlines and more, they frequently get out of the business quickly.“Luckily, I am a person that thrives on this, and it is my passion for it that keeps me going on […]

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