Florist Preserves Business, Wants to Grow in Challenging Times
Stung by the recession and competition from grocery stores, a Bay florist remains successful with his unique artistry.
The store probably isn't the first thing you notice on Oakland Avenue in Whitefish Bay, tucked just north of Shorewood's business district in the shadow of new development, often obscured by an idling truck. But if you walk by it, the warm glow skipping off the golden angels and hundreds of flowers in the Milwaukee Blooms windows will probably catch your eye.
"In January when everyone is depressed, I've got tulips and lilacs all around me; I'm always surrounded by flowers," Milwaukee Blooms owner Andrew Eschweiler said. "Wouldn't you want to sit here all day?"
The flower business isn't what it once was, Eschweiler said, before people started picking up more generic bouquets at the grocery store.
But with more than 40 years in the business, Eschweiler has stayed very much in the game with his unique artistry, arranging flowers for some of the most powerful people in the world, including Pope John Paul II and Presidents Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush. He's also done flowers for celebrities like Whitney Houston and David Bowie (who received a teal and hot pink color scheme).
"People say, 'This is what I want,'" Eschweiler said. "And I'm like, your bouquet is already done in my head. We make it crazy and fabulous and none of it looks the same as anything we've done before. You have to have an artistic, creative mind."
Eschweiler said the store has also done more than 2,500 weddings, including one on an airplane and one on horseback. Photos of their arrangements are posted on Milwaukee Blooms' blog.
"You should see us decorate," He said. "People will be at a funeral, in line to greet the family and they see the flowers, and they just stop and stare."
Still, Eschweiler reflects fondly on a time when people frequented small boutiques and there were several greenhouses in Whitefish Bay that supplied floral stores.
Eschweiler first got interested in being a florist after he earned an art degree from UW-Milwaukee and worked as an apprentice to a florist in Whitefish Bay, Jim Manders.
"I worked the hard way; I didn't start at the top," he said. "I swept and I took out the garbage."
But he loved the work, which he said he appreciates as an artist because every project is fresh.
"There's nothing worse than being a great artist and doing the same thing all day long."
When he opened Milwaukee Blooms 40 years ago downtown on Jefferson and Wisconsin, the store was bigger than it is now and received more foot traffic, he said.
"Oh, those were the good days," He said.
Eventually they had to downsize and opted for the lower rent of their Oakland Avenue location.
They took another hit from the recession, Eschweiler said, and the closing of their sidewalk during the development of the Cornerstone building next door slowed foot traffic to a trickle.
But he's optimistic that the development on his end of Oakland Avenue will bring more people to the area, and he hopes new customers will be willing to venture inside.
"People have to learn not to be intimidated by a boutique," he said.