LA GRANDE — The future of Fitzgerald Flowers, one of La Grande’s older family-owned businesses, is becoming as clear as the glass vases that come with its popular Winter Splendor bouquets.
It’s a future Maddie Ford, the floral shop’s assistant manager and an employee for the past 10 years, will be a big part of.
Ford has entered into a partnership agreement with Julie Bodfish — the shop’s owner since the mid-1990s — that makes Ford a part owner.
Ford, who is also a professional photographer, will become a full partner at Fitzgerald Flowers in five years. Bodfish said she will likely retire about then. She is confident Ford will keep the floral shop in full bloom.
“It will be in her very capable hands after I retire,” Bodfish said.
The plan for Ford to eventually run the business is one Bodfish and Ford have been working on for some time.
“We have been talking about this a lot, especially the last several years,” Bodfish said.
Bodfish is the daughter of the late Pat and Helen Fitzgerald, who started the flower shop in 1944. She said she has the blessing of her family in making plans for Ford to become the shop’s next owner.
“This is a huge deal for our family,” Bodfish said. “Maddie has the stamp of approval from everyone in our family.”
Ford is touched by how graciously members of the Fitzgerald family have reached out to her.
“They have adopted me as a part of their family,” she said.
Bodfish gave Ford a job at Fitzgerald Flowers less than a month after Ford graduated from Cove High School in 2012. Bodfish said Ford and Courtney Miles, who is an assistant manager at Fitzgerald Flowers and has been with the shop for about 20 years, are the two best hires she has made.
Ford said she applied at the store in 2012 because her older sister, Mollie, had worked there previously, enjoyed the experience and spoke highly of the shop’s staff. Maddie Ford initially looked upon the job as a means of helping her work her way through college while earning a degree in art from Eastern Oregon University.
She had no intention to someday own Fitzgerald Flowers.
“Absolutely not,” Ford said.
Bodfish had other ideas, though. She soon saw that Ford had the talent needed to become a floral designer and a future owner. Bodfish began giving Ford the training she needed. Today, Ford knows floral design and all elements of the flower business.
“She clearly understands every job in the shop,” Bodfish said.
These jobs include preparing floral bouquets for weddings — ceremonies Ford often photographs for families as the owner of Blackbird Photography, a business she has owned and operated since 2013.
“I love having the chance to do both at the same wedding,” Ford said.
She said she views photography as an extension of what she does when creating floral designs for weddings.
“The two go hand in hand,” Ford said.
Embracing a motto
Outside the entrance to Fitzgerald Flowers is the motto of Bodfish’s mother: “Treat your customers as friends and your staff as family.”
Ford said she is impressed with how Bodfish has taken the motto to heart.
“Julie has absolutely adopted it,” Ford said.
Ford said that when she becomes the owner of Fitzgerald Flowers she will continue to strive to live by this motto while also tapping into her passion for artistic expression.
“I love being able to create for the community,” Ford said. “It is fun to bring beauty into people’s lives.”