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Waterford - The tiny storefront on the Boston Post Road that houses Melissa Gainsley's L&J Blooms is actually a step up from the cellar operation she moved out of.
The divorced mother of two small children initially set up her florist shop in the basement of her parents' Fog Plain Road home until a complainant forced her to relocate the business to commercial space.
On Feb. 1, Gainsley opened L&J Blooms - named for her small sons Logan and Jason -at 195 Boston Post Road and has been growing her business since.
"I've always loved gardens growing up," said the 30-year-old Gainsley, who is studying ornamental horticulture at the University of Connecticut and has been hybridizing, or cross-breeding, daylilies and selling them for the past six years.
As a child, Gainsley's first garden was a watermelon patch.
In recent years she's specialized in daylilies and irises, developing 197 varieties of daylilies and 32 types of irises that she sells by word of mouth, trade shows, a soon-to-be-published catalogue, and now in her shop.
When Gainsley was recently divorced and realized she needed to come up with a plan to support herself and her two young sons, she turned to her passion: flowers.
She connected with a floral wire service company that brokers orders to local florists for delivery, and last October began arranging flowers in her parent's basement. But then there was a complaint to Telaflora, and the town's Board of Selectmen, and Gainsley agreed to find a storefront.
The rental she found on Boston Post Road west of the Town Hall is big enough for a small retail section up front and a back room to accommodate a walk-in cooler for flowers, work space for arranging and plenty of storage.
Gainsley's parents help her out with child care and the business, and eventually she plans to move to a larger location.
On a recent weekday, Mother's Day orders were coming in and being organized by requested day of delivery and town. L&J delivers within a 30-mile radius of the shop.
Inside the cooler, there were large buckets of colorful flowers - tulips, irises, daisies, sunflowers, gladioli, lilies, roses, double lisianthus - and variegated greens.
Fresh flowers from wholesalers are regularly delivered, and soon Gainsley plans to bring in some of the daylilies and irises that she's developed over the years. By hybridizing the daylilies, she's able to offer varieties of various colors and color patterns. Some have ruffled petals or a jagged tooth pattern. Some daylilies have a fragrance, some have more buds and some bloom earlier or later than the usual peak time in July and August.
Gainsley can help customers find just the daylily they're looking for.
But her focus is also on growing her new florist shop.
Her father, Gary Owens, spent 32 years in the Navy and National Guard, and Gainsley said the entire family feels a strong connection to the military so the shop offers military discounts.
Gainsley continues to work with the floral wire service companies but is attracting a steady clientele of her own. Valentine's Day was very busy and Mother's Day, too. And then there are the weddings, funerals, proms and all the other occasions that people want flowers for.
She also offers balloons and gift baskets filled with snacks, fruit, chocolates or other items and potted plants.
"We're a full-service florist. We make up and deliver arrangements daily," she said.
What: L&J Blooms
Who: Melissa Gainsley
Where: 195 Boston Post Road
Employees: Her parents help her out
Phone: (860) 437-3187