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@Work: Forever Flowers

Sept. 22, 2005 – Taking root in the dreams of three girlfriends tired of working for other people, Forever Flowers in Frenchtown has blossomed since its opening in 1990 into one of the largest flower shops on St. Thomas.
"The three of us were all working at H. Stern Jewelers when we got the idea, but we actually didn't know anything about flowers when we started," said owner Geraldine "Gigi" Quetel. "So we did everything we could to learn about flowers. We bought every magazine and book on the subject and taught ourselves."
Quetel added that after initially renting a small space on Back Street for the business, the trio received a lot of help from her family in putting the store together. "They helped with everything — from my husband doing the construction work on our stores, to my kids working behind the counter selling our products," Quetel said.
When the business started to expand, Quetel began looking for new locations and ended up moving to another Back Street site. However, she was simultaneously working on adding a Forever Flowers in Frenchtown — a venture that allowed her to sell the Back Street store and relocate permanently.
"We've been in Frenchtown since 1994," Quetel said. "I'm very happy to be here — it's where I was born, where I grew up and where I have my family close by." Among other things, Quetel added that her Frenchtown store also has ample parking for customers, a luxury not afforded on Back Street.
Over time, Quetel said partners Wanda Magras and Marcia Kanusing sold their shares of the business to her, creating the opportunity for Quetel to be sole owner and to expand the business even more. "We began to bust at the seams after a while from all the orders we were receiving," Quetel said. "So when we heard that the tenant next door was moving to a larger space herself, we also leased her spot and expanded the Frenchtown store."
As the business grew and Quetel began to cater to a larger clientele — including resorts and yachts coming into the territory during tourist seasons — she was introduced to Dave Bilardi, owner of several flower shops in Sarasota, Fla. "I had come to the Virgin Islands to semi-retire when I met Gigi in 1997," Bilardi said. "I sold all my businesses, moved down here, and we've had a close working relationship ever since."
Indeed, just as her business had expanded, so did the relationship between the two, culminating in a business partnership in early 2004 — a factor that has allowed Forever Flowers to grow even more. "We have the best of both worlds now," Bilardi said. "We've combined Gigi's island know-how with my stateside experience. That's allowed us to branch out, expand our clientele."
For example, the two are now catering even more to resorts and off-island yachts, as well as doing flowers for at least 15 weddings a month. To help with this load, they have also introduced a new wedding site online, where customers can look at what the store has before placing their order. "This is something that I started in Florida, and finished when I moved here," Bilardi said. "There are a lot of brides who come here from off island to get married, so they have the opportunity to set up their stuff before they come down. It also helps a great deal with our local clientele."
Quetel added that everything on the site is their work. And, because it is constantly frequented by statesiders, Forever Flowers plans to once again expand to include their line of rental items for weddings. "We do so many that we felt we had to build up our wedding props," Quetel said.
Bilardi said they are also expanding their gourmet and plush lines this fall for customers who want first-class gift baskets or cuddly teddy bears. "The business is doing fabulous now," Bilardi added. "We're not afraid to take chances. In fact, the business started with three women who were not afraid to take chances, and we just grew it from there."
To visit the wedding website, log on to www.virginislandsweddingflowers.com or call Quetel and Bilardi at 340-774-9370.

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