It’s 2008 – I’m 19 and curious heading out into the “real world.”
I was attending community college and living in San Luis Obispo, which reminded me of a quaint European town with its gorgeous green hills, established trees and sweet local shops, which intrigued me. They had so much personality to offer that I so badly wanted to taste – but how?
It was an autumn day and there was this adorable flower shop named “Bella” in the downtown district on Chorro and Broad Street. It had this kind of European character and warmth. Flowers in french buckets on wooden stilts, flowers on old antiqued furniture, vases and ribbons spools filling the walls in bright colors, and the most beautiful natural light. Oh the light! I wish I could be there now. It felt like walking into a painting.
As I walked in, Judi – the shop owner – was there and she greeted me. Judi was a fashionista. Dressed to impress and always with her own unique flair. We chatted for a bit. I told her a bit of my story and how I worked under a florist in high school. When it was time to go, I asked if she was hiring or would be in the future. She said no.
Somewhat OK with her answer, I went on with my afternoon and drove around to a few other small flower shops inquiring about work. But the answers were all the same: “Not this time dear.”
I knew part of the reason was that they actually weren’t hiring at the time, but the other part of me knew that I was no value to them with my little experience. That night I couldn’t sleep. I so badly wanted to be apart of that cute little corner shop with the baby blue stucco walls and sweet planters framing the door. So the next day after my classes, I went back to Bella.
I walked in and told Judi I’d work for free. I think we were both surprised and when she said “great! you can start tomorrow!” and I was over the moon.
Knowing little about the flower industry, I started out sweeping petals off the floor, scrubbing buckets in a tiny sink with bleach, taking the green waste out multiple times a day and just getting to know Judi. Over the next few weeks I was in the honeymoon stage, you could say (though I don’t think I ever fell out of it the whole time I worked there).
I was antsy to leave school to get to Bella. I missed the smell of the shop and embraced the relationships I was building with customers. One little girl in particular was named Grace, and she was maybe 10 or so. She would ride her bike to the shop daily after school just to admire the flowers and ask hundreds of questions. All of it felt so right, and so me.
I loved my time at Bella. I volunteered for maybe 4-5 months, which then led to a paid position. By that time I had built confidence in my design skills, people skills, flower knowledge and overall happiness from working in a place I loved dearly.
Judi ended up being a huge mentor in my life at the time. We laughed, cried during the madness of Valentines Day, and ate many bagels – lots of them! I’ll never forget the lessons I learned at Bella and I’ll forever cherish the beautiful time of my life this little gem of a shop brought me.