MANATEE -- After 30 years in business and decorating more than 3,000 weddings, Susan and Mark Clark continue to make rosy memories inside their floral shop on Cortez Road.
Flowers by Edie celebrated its 30th year in business this month and the Clarks have estimated that, through the years, more than 3,000 weddings have featured their arrangements. Susan relishes the genie-like role she plays for brides-to-be.
"You share a very special event in a girl's life, and when she comes in here she has a lot of ideas and dreams, and you can actually make that come to life," she said
The Clarks operated a shop in Long Island, and after selling that one, they were looking to acquire another. They came to Bradenton where Mark had lived as a child.
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"I think the deciding factor was we drove to the beach and it was so beautiful," Susan said about their March 1984 visit. "I said to him, 'If I have to move to Florida, this is probably a place I can move to.'"
On Aug. 1, 1984, the couple took over operations and haven't wilted under the pressure. First located in a shopping center where Healthcare America Medical Group stands today, Edie's continues to craft arrangements at 4607 Cortez Road in the Bradenton Commons shopping center. They've been recognized with small business awards and as a Top 500 FTD florist through the years, too.
The shop does at least two wedding orders per week, but for the past couple of years it seems to be one a day as Anna Maria Island has become a year-round wedding destination. The online-driven business means the Clarks don't get to talk to their clients face to face or even over the phone much, having to handle orders by trading emails and photos, especially for international customers.
Trends have changed, as carnations have given way to hydrangeas, but one thing that will always
remain the same is that brides are quite detailed in their requests.
On Tuesday, Susan was trying to find a ribbon somewhere in between a baby blue and aero blue for a bride from England, trading pictures to capture the minutia.
"We've actually developed quite a relationship,' she said, chuckling. "We're wishing each other happy holidays and sending little messages. I get attached to my brides."
Not all weddings go as planned. Or are planned at all.
"You open the door and you never know what's going to happen," Mark said.
The more interesting moments are those last-minute requests, the Clarks said. Last summer, a woman was getting a pedicure in the shopping center with her daughter and didn't have much time before her 2 p.m. wedding at the courthouse.
"She came running over here and said, 'I'm getting married at two o'clock. And I need a bouquet, and a bouquet for the girl that's standing next to me and a boutonniere for the groom and the best man and just a little something for my daughter," Susan said.
'And can you get it done by the time my manicure and pedicure is done?' Mark chimed in.
Of course, and they managed to create what they could in a little more than an hour.
The most touching request the couple received was from a long-time customer who was fighting cancer.
"He was a musician and his wife was also involved with church music. He was dying of cancer and he came in with a CD that he wanted delivered on his next anniversary. He knew he wasn't going to be there," Mark said. "He wanted that to go with the flowers. He had written a song for her and recorded it."
The Clarks have weathered the recession, which hit their business-to-business sales, and wishes more folks would cut out the middle man online and call a florist over the phone to see what they can do. The websites take out a commission and automate the order redemption.
"Call them, ask them what you have beautiful in the shop today," she said. The shop is offering walk-in customers with a free gift with purchase in September to help celebrate the anniversary and to drive local business.
That they are celebrating 30 years and 3,000 weddings is extra special given that 18 years ago, their business was nearly cut short by a thief.
In November 1996, Mark was working in the back of a floral delivery truck with John Gordon of Flowers A Cut Above in Sarasota when somebody jumped in the cab and sped away with the two still in the back. Gordon managed to jump out immediately but Clark slipped while trying to jump and smashed his head on the pavement, according to Herald archives.
Mark sustained a traumatic brain injury and had to be hospitalized for a month. He spent months in rehabilitation and left there without a memory of the accident.
Susan had to take over for her husband, the certified master designer, while they were raising two young children at the time -- a 13-year-old son and a 10-year-old daughter. The couple said the community responded strongly with their support. Police never found the suspect.
The Clarks have survived that battle and hope to do another 3,000 weddings.
"Sometimes you just thank God everyday that we're still standing after all of these years and after all of these ups-and-downs," Susan said.
Charles Schelle, Herald business reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7095. Follow him on Twitter @ImYourChuck.