Columbus, Ohio USA
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Five years of floral fantasy
By Karen Edwards
May/June 2013 Issue
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Photos © Erica Woodrum
Mary Ernst McColgan and Savannah
There is a time, deep in a forest and after a spring rain, that the earth seems full of promise. Colors glow with an ethereal radiance, and there is a rich, natural scent of soil mixing now with pine, now with jonquils and lily of the valley, depending on which way the breeze is blowing. The world seems to have taken on sharper focus. Suddenly, you see details you might have missed on a less magical day.
If you’ve not experienced that spring woodland morning for yourself, then make it a point to visit Rose Bredl, the floral design studio that sits at 664 N. High Street. Rose Bredl is celebrating its fifth anniversary this year – five years of designing innovative arrangements for everyone from political VIPs to Short North restaurants, from discerning brides to city dwellers who just want a reminder that nature is as enticing and transforming as it has ever been.
An early mentor
The shop’s name comes from the shop owner’s early mentor. “My grandmother’s name was Violet Rose Bredl,” says owner Mary Ernst McColgan. With a name so wonderfully floral, was there ever any doubt that gardening would be such a passion for Violet Rose? No wonder McColgan, who grew up in Hamburg, New York, not far from her grandparents’ home in Orchard Park, would fall in love with the gardens and greenhouses that her grandmother would while away so many happy hours. To add further inspiration to McColgan’s beginnings – her grandmother’s marriage seemed almost to have been arranged by Mother Nature, herself, for Violet Rose had fallen in love with a potter – a man whose own creativity and sense of visual artistry produced the perfect vessels for all those flowers.
Despite such early inspiration, however, McColgan did not immediately fall into the flower business. First came a job as district manager for Abercrombie & Fitch, where, incidentally, she met her husband.
While in that job, she traveled widely and wherever she was, she would check out the local floral shops. Her favorite was Winston’s of Boston, but the former Leaves of Grass in the Short North was a strong contender. “Our corporate headquarters was in Columbus, so we’d be here frequently,” says McColgan, referring to she and her husband. Trips to the Short North were de rigueur when they were here – and for McColgan, so was a visit to Leaves. “It reminded me of shops I’d seen on the East Coast,” she says. “I hadn’t seen any other shop in Columbus like it.”
On her own
Eventually, working the same job, traveling together and separately, began to take its toll on the pair. They decided to move to Columbus in 2006, and McColgan felt it was time to return to her roots. “I started my business from home,” she says, primarily working on events like rehearsal dinners for family and friends. During that time, she was also commuting back and forth to Dayton, earning an associate degree in floral design. McColgan’s talent with flowers is innate, “But I wanted to get grounded in design basics and learn about running a business,” she says. She learned about ordering plants, cleaning buckets, and, as she learned, her business continued to grow. After a year or so, she moved into a shop in Powell – Found, a home-goods store – owned by a friend. The two shared the space for a while, yet “It was always my intention to be in the Short North,” McColgan says. When space became available on High Street, she didn’t hesitate a minute. By 2008, Rose Bredl, the shop named for McColgan’s grandmother, was on its way to becoming a Short North fixture.
Don’t misunderstand, however. Owning a small business at a time when the economy decided to crash-and-burn was no, well, rose garden.
“The economy had tanked when we opened,” says McColgan. “I didn’t know if we would have a future at that point.”
Yet five years later, Rose Bredl is still here. “We’re still little,” says McColgan, “But I like our size. I have my hands in everything and I don’t want to change that.”
The shop’s smallness may be one of the reasons Rose Bredl has an outstanding reputation for customer service.
Betsy Reutz may be Rose Bredl’s best customer. She has ordered flower arrangements from the shop on a weekly basis since the store opened. “It’s a treat I give myself,” says Reutz. She doesn’t request special flowers or a particular color or a specific arrangement. “I leave it up to Mary,” she says. “I enjoy her aesthetic and she knows me well enough by now.”
McColgan is proud of what she calls her signature style. “Our design has made an impact in Columbus,” she says. “It’s now recognizable as ours.”
Reutz describes the Rose Bredl style as lush, organic and natural – in terms of shape, texture and feeling. Meredith Diamond calls the signature arrangements “beautiful” and “heavenly.” Diamond writes the blog for Rose Bredl. “Mary doesn’t use fillers in her arrangements,” she says. It’s what makes Rose Bredl bouquets stand out from others in the city. Baby’s breath, for example, is a common florist’s filler. “It’s a beautiful flower in its own right,” says Diamond, so if it appears in a McColgan-designed bouquet, it’s because it’s integral to the design. Or, it may even be a star with other natural elements playing a supporting role. Rose Bredl also does not blindly follow design trends. Succulents may be hot right now, but McColgan will only incorporate them in an arrangement if they fit. Far better, she says, is to work with what’s fresh, seasonal and at its best – no matter the current trend.
Besides filler material, you also won’t find a wall full of coolers with prearranged flowers at Rose Bredl. There are some arrangements scattered about the shop to be sure. “We started as a grab-and-go business,” says McColgan, and there is still an element of that. But “Mary wants to create something fresh and especially for you,” says Diamond.
“I’ve seen arrangements she has made for others, but they seem different from those she makes for me each week,” says Reutz. “I feel like they’ve been custom designed, especially for me.”
Customer service doesn’t get much better than that. But customers will also tell you that it’s not just the arrangements that keep them captivated and returning again and again. It’s the shop, itself.
The Rose Bredl mystique
“It has an East Coast vibe,” says Reutz, who travels annually to Cape Cod. “Her shop reminds me of some of the coastal gardens and outdoor spaces I’ve seen there. It just invites you to explore.”
Should you choose to explore Rose Bredl, you will find a tasteful and unique array of items – including pottery by some of the leading pottery artists in America. Many of the artists are women, and, for a time McColgan even carried pottery from the same firm that once employed her grandfather.
“Almost everything we sell in the shop is made in America,” says Diamond. “We take pride in that.”
Even the flowers are locally grown, at least as much as possible, says McColgan. “Of course, Ohio has a short growing season, so I order from outside the state as well, but I work with local farmers and growers whenever possible,” she says.
Like any floral business, a good share of those flowers, whether local or not, are ordered for weddings.
“I know it sends some people screaming, but my favorite type of wedding is the outdoor wedding,” she says – preferably one that takes place in the fall. McColgan recalls a wedding she did at Skipping Rock farm in Granville. “Our style fit right into the location,” she says. The natural rusticity of the barn, the country-urban feel – it all seemed tailor-made for McColgan and the wedding team at Rose Bredl. Recently, the group worked on a bridal crown, to slip over the bride’s veil. “Floral crowns seems to be growing in popularity,” says McColgan.
McColgan has a staff of 10 – all trained by her and all trained to cross over into each other’s jobs, including design work. Rather than have her staff emulate her, McColgan teaches them the basics behind a Rose Bredl design and allows them the freedom to create.
It’s that homage to creativity and nod to nature that has distinguished Rose Bredl for the last five years.
Dreams and the future
McColgan would love one day to own property and grow flowers, especially lavender, “but I can grow them or I can work with them. I can’t do both,” she says. For now, she will remain working with them.
Sometime in the next five years, McColgan hopes to open a second location. The shop won’t be in Ohio however. “We love Savannah, Georgia,” says McColgan. “My husband is from there and still has family in the area. We visit there every year. That’s where I’d like to open a second shop.”
If she does, chances are her customers down South will enjoy the same enchanted woodland experience that have delighted Short North customers for years. McColgan hopes so.
“People who come into the shop tell me they like to visit here because the place makes them feel so good,” McColgan says. She’d like to bring that same ambiance – and the same good feelings – to another part of the country. But this time, it’s not just for the customers.
When she hears customers tell her how Rose Bredl inspires creativity and restores their spirits, “That’s what makes me feel good,” she says.
Rose Bredl, 664 N. High St. is open Tuesday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Visit www.rosebredl.com
© 2013 Short North Gazette, Columbus, Ohio. All rights reserved.
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